Haiti faces collapse of humanitarian support: 'What happens next is anyone's guess'

The spiraling crisis in Haiti is raising fears in the United Nations and among aid groups of a complete collapse of humanitarian support for Haitians already struggling to access basic needs.

Five humanitarian aid groups told The Hill they have serious concerns about the situation on the Caribbean island nation — where gangs now control 90 percent of the capital city Port-au-Prince — and whether the delivery of key supplies can be maintained for much longer. 

And during meetings last week, officials at the United Nations involved in humanitarian response expressed concern that an even more dire situation could endanger critical aid services, according to a person familiar with the discussions. 

“The risk is if the crisis goes on for like weeks or months, it’s going to be impossible for those organizations to actually sustain the country,” the person said. “Everybody is extremely worried about what’s going to happen.” 

Laurent Uwumuremyi, Haiti country director for the aid group Mercy Corps, said humanitarian corridors are shrinking and agreed that it could collapse without a change in the situation. 

“There are growing concerns that if the security is not restored soon, the little aid that Haiti was getting will no longer be there,” he said in a statement. 

The crisis in Haiti is testing aid workers used to working in conflict zones and disaster-stricken countries. The escalating violence in Port-au-Prince has created a man-made catastrophe across the island.  

Haiti’s main port, in Port-au-Prince, is largely closed, along with the international airport. And the Dominican Republic is limiting what can cross over the border into Haiti. With those humanitarian corridors almost completely shut down, supplies are running extremely low as the country struggles with a worsening hunger crisis.

Responders on the ground say Haiti is in the midst of its worst disaster in the country since the 2010 earthquake that killed around 220,000 people. 

Jean-Martin Bauer, the country director for the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) in Haiti, said he wasn’t sure if “this can go on for very much longer.” 

“People have a hard time seeing a way out. It’s a man-made crisis,” he said. “There isn’t the hope that there was after the earthquake. So we’re facing a very different type of scenario.” 

Already in Haiti, more than five million people are at the stage three and four levels of hunger out of a population of roughly 11 million. Without urgent intervention, the most endangered people could soon enter the fifth stage, which is famine. 

Bauer said the available food stocks will run out by the end of April, at which point it will be crucial to re-open the airport and seaport to maintain humanitarian supply corridors. 

“We’re facing an episode of protracted mass hunger in Haiti,” he said. “What happens next is anyone’s guess, but we will do everything we can.” 

The ongoing gang violence, which unraveled after the 2021 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, has displaced more than 362,000 people and has killed thousands. 

Conditions have dropped off in recent months as the gangs have grown in power. The crisis forced the resignation of Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry three weeks ago, leaving a political vacuum that U.S.-involved efforts have yet to fill. 

Along with the risk of a shortage of food and potable water, hospitals and medical facilities are facing the risk of shutting down from a lack of fuel. 

Djoen Besselink, the operational manager for Haiti at Doctors Without Borders, said his roughly 70 to 80 staff members are not facing any serious issues yet and facilities are running. 

But he said a shortage threatened its ability to keep the lights on at medical sites.

“We need to get attention for this crisis. We need to make sure that humanitarian actors are not shying away,” he said. 

A person from another humanitarian aid group, who spoke on background to discuss the sensitive situation, said the impact of the risks from the crisis were existential. 

“There’s a legit concern about just the whole country collapsing, not just humanitarian aid,” said the person. 

One of the major challenges for rescue and aid groups is that funding for Haiti’s humanitarian response plan, provided by the United Nations, is insufficient. This year’s funding is competing with other world crises, including those in Ukraine and Gaza. 

The U.N. announced a $674 million package for Haiti in February, but that request is just 7 percent funded, according to Bauer from the World Food Program. 

”The assistance programs won’t continue unless we get more funding,” he said. “And that’s dangerous in a setting where half the population is starving.” 

One of the largest donors for Haiti is the U.S., which is reporting difficulties but no change in the strategy to address the crisis.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) said the current crisis is “more profound and more extensive than any other crisis in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake” but emphasized rescue and aid workers remain committed. 

“The humanitarian community is present, active, and continuing to reach most people in need, despite the escalating gang violence. At this time, no partner has indicated plans to significantly reduce humanitarian operations,” USAID said in a statement to The Hill. 

“USAID’s humanitarian partners report that they are able to maintain a high level of humanitarian assistance across all funded sectors as access allows, although some agencies have reported increased challenges in reaching beneficiaries in some locations due to insecurity and gang control,” it added. 

Humanitarian aid groups say there are no immediate plans to pull back services, even as they acknowledge the challenges. 

“On the contrary, we’re trying to increase our operational presence. So we’re trying to mobilize more resources to be able to reach more people,” said Margherita Fanchiotti, the Haiti director of program development, quality and impact with Save the Children. 

Save the Children and other global aid groups work closely with local groups and Haitian staff members, who know the country and how to stay relatively safe. 

But humanitarian aid groups say they will need more effective and lasting government control to ensure supplies can continue to get out.  

The United Nations approved last year a plan to send a Kenyan-led multinational force into Haiti, but Kenya announced it was halting those plans after the collapse of the Haitian government last month. 

The U.S. and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have backed a plan to form a transitional government in Haiti, which is expected to be completed soon. That government will be key to efforts to put Haiti on the path to restore security and wrestle control back from the gangs. 

Most vital for humanitarian aid groups in the immediate term is maintaining open humanitarian corridors and funding, said Fanchiotti. 

“We do feel that we can do more,” she said. “We have the capacity to do more if we had more resources, starting with additional financial resources, to be able to reach even more children than we currently are.” 

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