Reopening of seaport, airport allow more aid to get to Haitians, UN food agency says

Despite funding shortfalls, the United Nations World Food Program continues to deliver free hot meals to schoolchildren like these students in Jérémie in southwestern Haiti, as well as to thousands of Haitians in Port-au-Prince who have been forced to leave their homes due to the ongoing armed violence. (Jacqueline Charles/Miami Herald/TNS)

The recent reopening of Haiti’s main international airport and seaport after more than two months of gang blockades is finally allowing aid workers to get more hot meals, water and medical supplies to Haitians, the World Food Program said Wednesday.

“The port has been taking shipments for two weeks and we have WFP food coming to the port in the next few days,” said Jean-Martin Bauer, Haiti country director for the United Nations’ food aid agency.


WFP was also recently able to fly in its first humanitarian cargo flight into Port-au-Prince’s Toussaint Louverture International Airport for the first time since commercial traffic was suspended in early March after armed groups targeted the runway in an attempt to take over key government facilities.

On Wednesday, JetBlue Airways joined American Airlines and the Miami-based cargo operator Amerijet in resuming regular air traffic between South Florida and Port-au-Prince after all were forced to suspend operations for more than two months.

“We’re going to continue with these flights for as long as they’re needed,” Bauer said about WFP’s humanitarian trips. “We have more flights planned this week and next because there’s just been such a dearth of incoming stocks that the clinics and hospitals of this city have been running out of supplies and their functionality has been threatened. So we’re going to maintain this effort for a longer time.”

Bauer said WFP was able to take 15 tons of medical supplies into Haiti last Thursday and “we have 50 tons lined up to come in the next few days.”

“The problem we have is that … there’s been a risk with access, there’s a risk with security, we need these infrastructures to be open, the port, the airport,” he said.

On Wednesday Bauer visited a kitchen in the capital where two dozen volunteers, some of them displaced by the violence, could be seen preparing hot meals behind him as he spoke to journalists virtually. The meals were to be delivered to some of the estimated 90,000 Haitians currently living in parking lots and schoolyards after being forced from their homes by armed gangs since they united on Feb. 29 in an attempt to topple the government.

Among other breakthroughs, Bauer said WFP is ramping up its assistance in violence-torn Cité Soleil, to which aid workers had limited access. Deadly clashes between rival gang coalitions have made the area one of the capital’s most difficult neighborhoods to get to, leading to some of the worst cases of malnutrition and cholera.

“We were able to bring rations to 93,000 people just in the month of May,” Bauer said.

Still, there remains a sense of crisis even as the capital experiences a reprieve from the daily gunfire that had people held hostage in their homes for months. Haitians live under a constant fear of being killed, kidnapped or injured while going about their daily lives, Bauer said.

“Many of my own staff have actually had to leave their homes because they’ve been displaced by the violence,” he said. “So security is the number one priority for a lot of Haitians.”

Haiti was recently identified as one of 10 countries around the world facing a severe food crisis. Along with Afghanistan, it was the only country on the list that wasn’t on the African continent. The report notes that the countries’ food crises are due to a combination of factors that include extreme weather events, armed conflicts, economics and forced displacement of the population.

Since January, food prices in Haiti have increased by 27% while incomes continue to fall, Bauer noted, and while famine has not yet hit the country, it lurks.

“The needs are so high, we’re again talking about 1.6 million people classified as facing a food emergency,” he said, calling it one of the highest numbers in the world.”

The country, Bauer said, needs “a robust humanitarian response right now.”

“The crisis in Haiti is here; it’s now and it needs and it deserves a response,” he said, adding that the World Food Program alone needs $76 million to continue operations in the country.

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