Haitian children most at risk of worsening food crisis
For weeks, Madeleine Célicourt and her children have taken refuge in a school in Port-au-Prince, finally finding peace – and hot meals – from a deadly gang war in Haiti’s largest slum forced them to flee last month.
But with the new school year about to begin, she and others like her will soon have to leave – not just knowing where they will sleep but how they will feed their children in the weeks to come.
“We have nowhere to go,” Celicourt said. “We have no blessings, no family, no support system.”
The children of Célicourt are the faces of Haiti’s latest crisis, where 1 in 20 children in Cité Soleil, Haiti’s largest slum, “are at risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition” due to a lack of health services and food, according to UNICEF. The statistics are even grimmer for children under 5: around 20% of the region suffers from severe or moderate acute malnutrition, five percentage points above the emergency threshold set by the World Health Organization. health.
Célicourt, 45, and two of her three children, Robens Remy, 11, and Manuela Remy, 10, were evacuated to a center in Saint-Paul de Chartre, a school located in the Delmas 31 district, with the help of a French nun. , Sister Paësie Philippe, who organized several risky evacuations through its organization, Kizito family.
In the weeks that followed, evacuated families relied on donations from the United Nations World Food Programme. The aid organization delivered a variety of boxed meals twice a day, as well as rice, beans and cooking oil.
“Today I think of God because if it wasn’t for Sister Paësie and if it wasn’t for the World Food Program, we would have a hard time finding food,” Célicourt said. “Even if the situation isn’t great, it’s better than dying there.”
Sister Paësie, who has spent more than 20 years working in Haiti, said deeply Poverty and hunger are nothing new for the 93,000 children of Cité Soleil, but violent gang clashes last month have made matters worse, leaving children more vulnerable than ever. Since 2019, gang warfare has completely wiped out activities in local markets, preventing mothers from selling and buying produce for cooking.
“Often, on Mondays, some children say to me: ‘My mother didn’t cook yesterday,'” says Sister Paësie. “It’s Sunday, which means a whole week has passed without the mother cooking.”
In the aftermath of this new conflict which left more than 471 dead and injured between July 8 and July 17, according to the The United Nations, Kizito Family has rescued and relocated more than 800 children. They were taken to several religious schools in Delmas for temporary accommodation.
Now they face a new challenge. Children and families who had taken refuge in Saint-Paul de Chartre and other schools have been told they must leave, raising concerns about their housing and food needs.
“We have already sent away children in the past few days, and unfortunately they are coming back in practically the same situation,” Sister Paësie said.
Humanitarian officials are expressing growing concerns about the effects of multiple crises in Haiti on the already severe food shortage.
“The situation is becoming really difficult, impossible for the most vulnerable families to survive in such conditions,” said Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative in Haiti. “We are trying to do our best with mobile clinic services at the moment, but tomorrow the situation will persist.”
In recent weeks, the organization said it had screened 9,500 children for malnutrition in Cité Soleil, and 1,920 received life-saving treatment. UNICEF blames the upsurge in gang-related violence which has not only caused hospitals in the area to close, but also impedes the safe movement of residents. The organization warns that “if the violence continues, these numbers could continue to rise”.
The World Food Program said that at least 4.5 million people in Haiti are suffering from severe hunger, of which 1.3 million are in need of emergency assistance across the country. With inflation close to 30% this year, food prices in Haiti have increased by more than 50%.
“I know there are children who eat every other day or even every third day, which means that they can have a rice dish one day and the next day they will buy small snacks, which they call marinade,” said a religious leader who works with the people of Cité Soleil and asked that his name not be used for security reasons. “And then there are times when there is nothing to eat, and the parents give them water with sugar so that the child does not cry and falls asleep at night.
“And we see the thinness of the children,” he added. “There is malnutrition — undernourishment — which will have permanent effects on some children and their intellectual development. They are always the poorest… and it is painful to see.
Hunger concerns are not limited to slum children.
Seven-year-old Entha is one of thousands of children suffering from hunger in the southern region of Haiti, where a deadly earthquake killed more than 2,200 people a year ago. His village on the Tiburon peninsula, near Petit-Trou-de-Nippes, about four hours west of Port-au-Prince, suffered severe damage, then was inundated a few days later by the storm. Tropical Grace.
Before the earthquake, Entha’s mother, Edlène, bought rice, spaghetti and other products to feed her husband and three children. But after losing her house, her possessions and her crop field, Edlène has no more money to invest in goods to sell on the local market. And the roads are destroyed, making it difficult for her to go to the market to buy food.
Entha said she’s been so hungry lately that it’s been preventing her to go play with his friends.
“I can’t eat when there’s nothing,” Entha said.
With more than 100,000 homes destroyed or damaged in the disaster, lack of food remains a pressing need for people in the south. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that about 650,000 people out of the 800,000 initially affected by the earthquake, including 340,000 childrenneed urgent humanitarian aid.
Save the Children, a non-profit organization, says “hunger is becoming a norm for children” in Haiti, and can impede their mental and physical development, increase their risk of contracting life-threatening diseases and ultimately , cause death.
“They depend on adults to provide them with food, so they are most at risk whenever there is a crisis,” said Chantal Imbreault, director of Save the Children in Haiti. “But their families don’t have access to food or a balanced diet.”
According to Integrated food security phase classificationwhich classifies the severity and characteristics of food and nutrition crises around the world, the four main areas of Haiti in urgent need of assistance are the coastal part of the South department, the lower North-West, the highlands and the very poor neighborhoods of Cité Soleil. Yet the rest of the country also remains in a food crisis.
Imbreault warns that although the country is not yet experiencing famine, the situation could easily go in that direction.
“If there were to be another big hurricane hitting Haiti in the next few months, we could end up at level five,” Imbreault said. “It’s very serious. So it’s very important to fix the problem.
Since the devastation, Save the Children said it had deployed a team to respond to the needs of children and their families in the worst-affected areas of the South and Grand-Anse regions, including emergency education, protection, water and sanitation, health and nutrition programs and cash assistance to over 100,000 people.
Entha’s family received several rounds of cash assistance, according to the organization, to cover their basic needs. But many others in the south still go hungry daily and need materials to rebuild.
While many children in Haiti depend on school feeding programs, UNICEF says that more than 250,000 children in southwestern Haiti do not have access to adequate schools.
“At the end of last year, UNICEF requested $97 million through the 2022 Humanitarian Appeal for Children to reach 950,000 people, including 520,000 children in Haiti,” it said Friday. Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the UN Secretary General, at UN Headquarters in New York. York. “To date, UNICEF has only received 30% of the funds needed. »
He said that of the $373 million needed, only 14% of Haiti’s humanitarian response plan is funded.