Amid one of the worst socio-political crises in Haiti’s history, which is being engulfed by a strong wave of armed violence, at least 2.6 million children and young people – one in two minors – are estimated to be in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in 2023, Unicef warned in late January. In the past two years, that number has risen by half a million as the growing power of gangs and a resurgence in cholera, coupled with food insecurity and skyrocketing inflation, have limited access to basic health, nutrition, water, sanitation and education for millions from them. “This is one of the most difficult times for children in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake and the situation is getting worse by the day,” said UNICEF representative in the Caribbean country Bruno Maes, who was visiting Europe to ask for support international community.
Questions. Why is this one of the most difficult times for children in Haiti?
Answer. This is definitely the worst moment of the last 12 years. All indicators show an increased vulnerability of children. For example, in Cité Soleil, a neighborhood in the capital of Port-au-Prince that has become one of the worst scenes of violence, one in five children suffers from malnutrition and one in 20 is already at risk of death from the same cause. army in Haiti. Then, children under the age of 10 represent one in three confirmed cases of cholera. In addition, 72 schools were reported to have been attacked in the first four months of the school year (October to February), compared to eight in the same period last year. And in Port-au-Prince, an estimated 1.2 million children are at risk of violence.
Bruno Maes, UNICEF representative in Haiti, at the organization’s headquarters in Madrid Lucía Foraster
Q What are the main consequences of armed violence for Haitian children?
R Armed violence has left all systems in Haiti weak. Health, education, protection… everything. And children are disproportionately affected. They get sick, can’t go to school, have to move. In addition, many suffer from sexual violence, both on the streets and on the migration routes. When everything is weakened, children are left vulnerable. And that can’t be. They need to be protected with vaccines and safe spaces like schools.
Officials (doctors, nurses, teachers) get up every morning to go to work to try to keep basic social services going in a context as difficult as the one they have. You have to support them, because if you don’t, the system will collapse completely
Q And what about Haitian girls?
R The same as in children, but increased as always. You pay a higher price.
Q What is the state of the education system?
R In a bad situation. Acts of armed violence against schools, including shootings, looting and kidnappings, have increased ninefold in a year, bringing the education system to a standstill. In the first six days of February alone, 30 schools were closed as violence escalated in urban areas.
Q It is estimated that at least 2.6 million children and young people will need emergency humanitarian assistance by 2023. Why?
R Haiti has been suffering from a gradual deterioration for many years. Systems are so weak and support from the international community is so low that it is very difficult to improve the situation. For this reason, UNICEF is calling on the international community to urgently increase financial support for humanitarian aid in Haiti, the emergency response agency with the least resources in Latin America and the Caribbean. For example, last year our organization’s humanitarian aid in Haiti received only about 40% of the funds it needed.
Q Has the world left Haiti?
R In a way yes. I think it’s because there is some fatigue among donors and there are multiple crises in the world. Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria… We’re trying to draw attention back to Haiti.
A woman and her daughter run past a barricade erected by police to protest police mismanagement January 26, 2023 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Odelyn Joseph (AP)
Q And the national and local authorities? Are children a priority for you?
R The truth is we work very closely with the Departments of Health and Education and we feel they are not doing badly. In addition, civil servants (doctors, nurses, teachers) get up every morning to go to work and try to keep basic social services going in a context as difficult as the one they have. You have to support them, otherwise the system will collapse completely. If it hasn’t already collapsed, it’s because of the commitment of these people. I also want to mention the incredible resilience of Haitian parents who fight every day to keep their children in school. They know that their children will have a better future if they go to school.
In the first six days of February alone, 30 schools were closed as violence escalated in urban areas
Q What do you expect from the various meetings that you have held and will hold in Brussels and Madrid with institutions such as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (Aecid) or the Ministry? from abroad?
R First of all, we must congratulate the Spanish government on the new cooperation law, which includes the objective of increasing the Spanish budget for international aid to 0.7% of GDP. As Haiti is already among the countries supported by the Spanish government, we expect additional commitment from these meetings. What I want to convey is that we must try to improve the protection and education of Haitian children.
Q And how are they improved?
R For me from the schools that have to be the safe space for children. A space of learning, but also a space of peace, reconciliation and respect, which must not be violated by the violent. We cannot accept that they become targets of violence. And make it clear that children’s rights must be the focus. Because without children there is no future.
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