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U.S. giving more food to Haiti as roadblocks, violent protests worsen hunger crisis

Crisis in Haiti discussed at congressional hearing

Supporters of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse want the Trump administration to help while those in opposition want the U.S. to stop supporting him as Haiti faces week seven of sustained protests.

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Supporters of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse want the Trump administration to help while those in opposition want the U.S. to stop supporting him as Haiti faces week seven of sustained protests.

The U.S. Agency for International Development will distribute 2,000 metric tons of emergency food — rice, green peas and cooking oil — in Haiti, where two months of sustained anti-government protests, sporadic violence and political gridlock have led to increased hunger and made it difficult to deliver humanitarian aid.

“Given recent developments there, we recognize that this is a largely political crisis but it has had a humanitarian impact,” a USAID official told the Miami Herald. “We made a determination in recent days that… there are some significant impacts as a result of the current crisis, which warrant us providing some additional assistance.”

Last month, Haiti’s Foreign Minister Bocchit Edmond wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking for urgent humanitarian assistance and logistics support to deliver it. The logistics support was interpreted as U.S. soldiers delivering the food as the U.S. has done in times of natural disaster.

But there will be no U.S. soldiers handing out food rations, said the USAID official, noting that distributions will be made by the United Nations’ World Food Program. Also, he said the decision to provide the emergency food, which was made Wednesday, was not in response to the Haitian government’s request but based on information from early warning systems and a new government report showing that 35 percent of Haitians — 3.67 million — are facing either a crisis or emergency when it comes to getting food.

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The food, he said, will come from the 3,500 metric tons that are already prepositioned in Haiti for this year’s hurricane season. The U.S. was already providing $20 million in food through Food for Peace prior to the new emergency distributions.

Tensions are continuing to escalate in Haiti. Church leaders, healthcare workers, artists and ordinary citizens have taken to the streets to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse, who is accused of corruption and mismanaging the economy. Moïse, who has denied the corruption allegations and blamed the opposition and “the system” for his troubles, has insisted he will not step down.

The Lycée Français, one of the few schools in Port-au-Prince that remained opened during the crisis, told teachers this week not to return from break until further notice. Meanwhile, on Thursday, Canada’s mission to the United Nations chaired a meeting to get a briefing on the crisis, and in Quebec the National Assembly issued a motion supporting “any peaceful and democratic exit” by Haiti’s civil society, while also stating that the humanitarian situation is “disturbing.”

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Thousands of protesters fill the road during a mostly peaceful march called by the artist community, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019. Anger over corruption, inflation and scarcity of basic goods, including fuel, has led to more than a month of demonstrations that have paralyzed the country as protesters demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) Rebecca Blackwell AP

On Friday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said she was “deeply concerned” about the impact the protracted crisis in Haiti is having on the ability of Haitians to have access to healthcare, food, education and other needs. Commissioner Marta Hurtado said the U.N. had verified at least 42 killings and 86 injuries since Sept. 15 from the escalating violence.

“The vast majority suffered gunshot wounds. Reports indicate that security forces were responsible for 19 of the deaths while the rest were killed by armed individuals or unknown perpetrators. Among those killed was at least one journalist. Nine other journalists were injured and many have reportedly been threatened,” Hurtado said in Geneva during a press briefing on Haiti. “We urge all actors to refrain from targeting journalists and respect the freedom of the media to report on the situation.”

Also on Friday, the Trump administration announced it would extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian beneficiaries in the U.S. through Jan. 4 2021. (TPS, which is the subject of several federal lawsuits, was also extended for another year for Honduras, El Salvador, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sudan).

In a statement, USAID Administrator Mark Green, who remains the highest-ranking Trump administration official to have visited Haiti, warned Friday that while the emergency food assistance “will help alleviate some urgent needs, it will not, and cannot, address the root causes of the current paralysis in Haiti.”

“The same factors that are causing economic and political paralysis in Haiti are affecting USAID’s ability to carry out our normal project activities,” Green said in the statement. “Fuel shortages, roadblocks, protests, and violent incidents are severely restricting the movement of USAID staff and implementing partners.”

Some facilities, Green said, have been forced to close and life-saving health services have been suspended.

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Protesters, medical professionals, and political opponents walk past burning trash during a demonstration demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moise in the Haitian capital in Port-au-Prince on October 30, 2019. VALERIE BAERISWYL AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

USAID acknowledges that the staple of rice, vegetable oil and green peas are not a comprehensive diet, but they do offer sustenance to “families that don’t otherwise have the ability to purchase food.”

Food insecurity, defined as not having access to food, has long been problem in Haiti. It has been made worse by the ongoing protests and roadblocks, the country’s soaring 22.6 percent inflation rate and an ongoing drought. Drought conditions, according to the government’s National Coordination of Food Security office, have lowered agricultural production in many parts of the country by as much as 12 percent.

In its report, the National Coordination Food Security said while rural areas are more affected by food insecurity than urban communities, moderately poor areas of Cité Soleil and the very poor districts of Croix des Bouquets in metropolitan Port-au-Prince are desperately in need of assistance. In some communities in Port-au-Prince, for instance, treated water and staples like bread are almost impossible to find, Haitians have said.

The report also noted that other areas with a high percentage of people in crisis and emergency situations include parts of the Artibonite —where gangs last week chopped up the bodies of rivals — and the Nippes and Grand’Anse, both of which require trucks to cross gang territories on the edge of the capital.

Still, the widespread protests have posed a problem for humanitarian aid workers.

Last month, the World Food Program was forced to temporarily suspend cash transfer and food deliveries, either because its workers could not cross the barricades or the violent demonstrations made traveling unsafe.

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A man throws fuel on a fire as protesters, medical professionals, and political opponents demonstrate during a demonstration demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moise in the Haitian capital in Port-au-Prince on October 30, 2019. VALERIE BAERISWYL AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Lorene Didier, a spokeswoman for the program, said while the situation in Haiti has hampered the group and other humanitarian organizations´efforts to reach people, WFP was “doing its utmost” to get food delivered every time the security situation permitted it.

Didier said the program was able last month to successfully make deliveries to about 200 additional schools that had remained open. Since the beginning of the school year in September, WFP was able to deliver food to 662, or 56 percent, of the 1,177 schools participating in its program.

The USAID official acknowledged that with the security situation changing by the day, delivery of its food could be delayed.

“We are constrained and there are some areas that we simply won’t be able to reach at this moment because literally as you know, some road access is not possible due to the current unrest,” the official said. “We have to be ready to assist to the greatest extent we can, at any particular given time. So we’re making this additional food available.”

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