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Haiti Relief Efforts Hampered by Increasing Insecurity

Relief efforts have been hampered by increasing insecurity in Gonaives—the site of some of the most severe damage—where armed gangs have looted several trucks of relief supplies and attacked aid worke
( [email protected] ) Oct 15, 2004 08:22 PM EDT

About 30 people in the nation of Haiti have been killed in what the U.S. State Department has called "a noticeable escalation in criminal and gang activity" since September 30. According to the latest warning, the situation in Haiti was growing dire due to the absence of an effective police force, the potential for looting by armed gangs and an increase in random violent crime, including kidnappings, car-jackings and assaults.

“We are very concerned about the deteriorating security situation in Gonaives and the impact it is having on our ability to reach those most in need with humanitarian supplies,” said Jed Hoffman, Catholic Relief Services’ (CRS) Regional Director for Latin American and the Caribbean. “While we make every possible effort to reach those in need, the safety and security of our staff must come first, and we are finding it increasingly difficult to work safely in Gonaives.”

After heavy rains brought by Hurricane Jeanne caused large-scale flooding in northern Haiti, more than 4,000 homes were destroyed, 2,600 lives were lost, and 300,000 people directly affected. And while 80,000 residents in the Haitian city of Gonaives remain in critical need of humanitarian relief, CRS said that growing insecurity threatens to halt relief operations.

According a recent report released by the humanitarian agency, relief efforts have been hampered by increasing insecurity in Gonaives—the site of some of the most severe damage—where armed gangs have looted several trucks of relief supplies and attacked aid workers working to distribute food and other emergency supplies. CRS reported that one of its staff members was injured in an attack at a distribution on October 8, and tensions remain high in the city.

The violence affecting Gonaives is also manifest in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, where violence has been growing in intensity in recent days. Though the cause and instigators of the violence are difficult to pinpoint, Haiti has been racked by political turmoil since the February ouster of Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide—turmoil that has turned increasingly violent in recent weeks.

In Gonaives, CRS and Caritas Haiti have thus far reached 2,500 flood victims with emergency non-food items such as clothing, shovels, soap and cooking supplies. CRS is working to secure $1 million in additional funding to address the long-term clean up needs now facing Gonaïves—clean up that can only begin when the security environment improves.

CRS, the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community, has worked in Haiti for 50 years, providing assistance in the areas of food security, HIV/AIDS care, safety net programs, civil society, health, water and sanitation, education and agriculture. The agency also provides assistance to people in 93 other countries and territories.