Gang Violence In Haiti Intensifies, Many Unable To Receive Food And Attend School Safely

Gang violence has skyrocketed in recent days in Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince, with 52 people reported dead and 110 injured in the neighborhood of Cité Soliel. Food insecurity has also become a grave issue as gangs have blocked roads and ports for food shipments. According to the United Nations World Food Program, 4.4 million people, nearly half of the population of Haiti, are in need of immediate food assistance. It has been reported that gangs have also cut off access to roads, blocking local farmers from selling their produce and preventing food shipments. Inflation due to the war in Ukraine, reaching 26 percent in in general and 52 percent for food, is further exacerbating food insecurity.

Gang violence in Haiti has spiked since former president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated last year, allowing for gangs to expand their power and dominance. It is estimated that between 150 to 200 gangs operate in Port-au-Prince alone. In 2021, gang clashes in Port-au-Prince forced more than 19,000 people to flee their homes. The number of students in school has decreased from 238,000 at the start of the recent violent spike in April 2022 to 184,000 currently.

Increased violence in the country has also made it nearly impossible for many children to go to school, many of whom often end up willingly or forcefully joining gangs. According to a recent report, “13 percent of children surveyed in one troubled neighborhood in the capital, Port-au-Prince, say they have been in direct or indirect contact with members of armed gangs as they tried to recruit them,” and half a million children have not been in school since April of this year in Port-au-Prince, where 1,700 schools have been closed due to increased violence.

Many people experiencing the increased violence first-hand in Port-au-Prince are pleading for help from the international community to address the nearly unlivable conditions. An unnamed 15-year-old from Port-au-Prince, who was forced to join a gang, recalled his experience while talking to the U.N. News, saying, “every day, as soon as they send me to watch the police, they will pay me 1,500 or 2,500 Haitian gourdes ($15-25). They told me they’ll kill me if I don’t want to stay with them.” The U.N.I.C.E.F. representative in Haiti, Bruno Maes has echoed the problems of school closures leading to children joining gangs, stating that, “giving children weapons to fight and using them as soldiers or spies is a violation of their child rights and condemned by both national and international laws…It saddens me that children who are willing to learn and teachers willing to educate cannot do so because they feel unsafe.” U.N. World Food Program Director in Haiti Jean-Martin Bauer describes how gang violence and rising inflation have contributed to food insecurity in the country, stating, “the context is gang violence, people are not able to work, people are not able to sell their produce and at the same time food prices are increasing.”

The first step to effectively combat gang violence in Haiti and provide solutions for food insecurity is for U.N. peacekeeping troops and N.G.O.s to send aid to the country to work with local groups in order to ensure that food is being successfully delivered to the people in heavily gang-controlled areas. By working with local groups and leaders, such as churches and local organizations that have connections to gang members, N.G.O.s can successfully negotiate opening routes for food shipments. Another integral part to minimizing gang violence is to employ peacekeeping troops. Currently, gang members outnumber the police, so peacekeepers are necessary to help keep the peace and limit violence. Only once these immediate actions are taken can more systemic solutions be administered, such as working to establish a stable democracy in Haiti and investing in infrastructure.

The increased violence in Haiti is a grave human rights issue that must be addressed immediately. Though it will be a long process to restore the stability of the Haitian government and limit the dominance of gangs, it is integral that preliminary steps including sending U.N. peacekeeping troops and working with local groups to negotiate food shipment routes are taken immediately.