A Humanitarian Crisis Is Rapidly Unfolding in Haiti

A Humanitarian Crisis Is Rapidly Unfolding in Haiti

Dr. Ronald V. LaRoche has not been able to cross into dangerous territory to inspect the hospital he runs in Haiti’s Delmas 18 neighborhood since it was ransacked by gangs last week, but a TikTok video he saw offered clues to its current condition: It was on fire.

He learned from neighbors and others who dared venture into gang territory that Jude-Anne Hospital had been looted and cleared of anything of value. It was the second hospital he has had to close.

“They took everything — the operating rooms, the X-rays, everything from the labs and the pharmacies,” Dr. LaRoche said. “Imagine! They are taking windows from hospitals! Doors!”

Haiti is in the throes of an uprising not seen in decades. As politicians around the region scramble to hash out a diplomatic solution to a political crisis that has the prime minister, Ariel Henry, stranded in Puerto Rico and gangs attacking police stations, a humanitarian disaster is quickly escalating. The food supply is threatened, and access to water and health care has been severely curtailed.

André Michel, an adviser to the prime minister, said Mr. Henry has refused to resign, and has demanded that the international community take all necessary measures to ensure his return to Haiti.

The United States and Caribbean leaders have been trying to convince Mr. Henry that to continue in power is “untenable.” An international security mission led by Kenya has been stalled. The United States has offered to finance the mission, but showed little interest in sending troops of its own.

On Sunday, the U.S. military carried out an operation to add more security forces to the American Embassy and airlift nonessential personnel out of the country, U.S. Southern Command said in a statement. “No Haitians were on board the military aircraft,” the statement said.

While gangs expand their territory and band together in concerted attacks against the state, millions of people throughout the country are caught in the middle. Many are afraid to leave their homes for fear of getting caught in the crossfire. They are hungry. They are running out of clean water and gas. They are desperate.

“Around me everyone is running,” said Dr. LaRoche, who packed up and closed three more medical facilities to avoid more looting. “Women, children and elderly have bags on their heads, and by foot they are fleeing. It is a war zone.”

Gangs that in the past year have spread throughout the country joined forces last week to attack state institutions, releasing thousands of prisoners. They are demanding the resignation of Mr. Henry, who was prevented from returning to Haiti as violence surrounded the airport and grounded all flights.

The chaos has left people to protect themselves as best they can.

“The biggest fear is stray bullets,” said Nixon Boumba, 42, a Haiti-based consultant to American Jewish World Service, an international aid and human rights organization.

Last weekend he called the motorcycle taxi driver he uses on a regular basis to go shopping. “He told me, ‘I can’t come now. My brother was hit by a stray bullet,’” Mr. Boumba said.

The driver’s brother was struck in the stomach and is recovering at a hospital. The daughter of another friend was hit in the jaw by a bullet on the campus of the city’s main public university, he said.

Blondine Tanis, 36, a radio broadcaster who was kidnapped for ransom in July by people on her street who then sold her to another gang that held her for nine days, said the violence in Haiti was nothing like she had seen before. She compared it to the 1991 coup that led to three years of military rule, but she was a baby then.

“There are young kids in the streets with heavy automatic weapons,” she said. “They shoot people and burn their bodies with no remorse. I don’t know how to qualify that. I ask myself what happened to this generation. Are they even human?”

Ms. Tanis said she has applied to enter the United States through the Biden administration’s humanitarian parole program.

As the security situation worsens, so does the food insecurity. Nearly one million of Haiti’s 11 million people are on the brink of famine, according to the U.N. About 350,000 of them are on the run, living on the streets, in tent cities or in overcrowded schools, as gangs invade their neighborhoods.

Most people now only leave their homes to do essential things, like go to the bank or shop for food and water. They take advantage of a lull in the violence to buy groceries. But experts fear that stocks will soon begin to dwindle as more and more goods pile up on the docks, because transportation by road is too dangerous and gangs have seized ports.

One person described the scene at a supermarket Saturday as a “carnival,” because so many people spent hours in line to stock up on supplies. Zanmi Lasante, a health organization affiliated with Partners In Health, which has worked in Haiti for decades, said it has enough fuel to run its generators for about a week.

Doctors Without Borders had to increase its hospital bed capacity from 50 to 75, as more and more people unable to access the closed public hospital showed up with gunshot wounds. One patient arrived at 3 p.m. for treatment of a gunshot wound from that morning. He died minutes later, said Dr. James Gana, who treats patients and helps run the clinics.

Doctors Without Borders recently reopened an emergency medical clinic in the city center after it had been closed for several months because gang members had removed patients from an ambulance and then killed them in front of the organization’s staff. Blood and oxygen supplies are running low.

“We are going very soon to have shortages of everything,” said Jean-Marc Biquet, head of mission for Doctors Without Borders in Haiti. “There is no more petrol in the petrol stations. People are selling fuel in small buckets, and nobody knows where that fuel is coming from.”

With no supply of clean drinking water, there is an increased risk of cholera, he said.

Mario Delatour, 68, a filmmaker, said he has not found bottled water in three days. A generous neighbor with a water-treatment system filled a five-gallon bottle for him on Saturday, but he still needs gas for the generator that powers his home. His neighborhood, a relative safe haven, has not had electricity in three months.

“I have enough fuel for tonight, but I don’t know about tomorrow,” Mr. Delatour said. “I’m a little bit on edge. It’s a hell of a thing, man.”

Julio Loiseau, a community activist in Port-au-Prince, said that with the power out, groceries spoil quickly, when you can find them.

“To have bread, one needs to get in line very early in the morning,” he said. “The only bread factory cannot cover its demands because of supply scarcity. My supplies ran out.”

Jean-Martin Bauer, country director in Haiti for the U.N. World Food Program, noted that the financial situation for many people is especially precarious because it has been too dangerous for people to go outside to work, and many people make their money on a day-to-day basis.

“What’s going on in Haiti is a protracted episode of mass hunger,” Mr. Bauer said. “This is probably one of the causes of what’s going on. We know hunger is related to instability and is a breeding ground for conflict, a breeding ground for strife and mass migration.”

Frantz Louis, 35, a security guard who was waiting for his shift on Saturday, said that like many Haitians, he feels Haiti has “completely collapsed.”

“The best solution for a young person for now is to leave the country,” he said. “If you want to stay in your country and you can’t eat and you can’t go where you want, what other choice do you have?”

Mr. Louis said he wondered what the gangs’ end game is. “Do they have an ideology?” he asked.

Robert, a 41-year-old furniture maker in Port-au-Prince, who did not want his name published for fear of reprisals, said he had been forced to sell his furniture for less than what it cost him to build.

“Sometimes you buy rice and you no longer have money to buy vegetable oil and spices, and that’s what happened to me last week,” Robert said, from his outdoor workshop. “Now the rice is finished, and I have to find another piece of furniture to sell at a low price — and also I need a customer.”

Robert has a wife and two children, a 7-year-old boy and 15-year-old girl. He avoids even looking at the large wardrobe he built in December that he has not been able to sell.

“The day I no longer have furniture to sell,” he said, “it will be hunger.”