Armed gangs ‘terrorising’ Haiti as cholera spreads: UN official

UN coordinator in Haiti says nearly 200 murders were recorded last month as cholera cases are now reported in eight of 10 provinces.

Armed gangs are “terrorising” residents in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, a United Nations official has warned, as deadly violence and instability continue to complicate the country’s response to a worsening outbreak of cholera.

Ulrika Richardson, the UN’s resident and humanitarian coordinator in Haiti, told reporters on Wednesday that 195 murders were recorded in October – about three per day – along with 102 kidnappings.

Armed gangs that control approximately 60 percent of the territory in Port-au-Prince are using “sexual violence, including rape … to instill fear and to punish and to terrorise the local populations”, Richardson said during a news conference broadcast at UN headquarters.

“They do this in order to expand their influence throughout the capital,” she added.

In addition to violence and political instability, Haiti is also grappling with rising numbers of cholera cases. Richardson said on Wednesday that cholera has now been recorded in eight of the country’s 10 provinces.

People receive treatment for cholera in a tent at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Cite Soleil, an impoverished neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince, on October 15, 2022 [Ricardo Arduengo/Reuters]

As of Saturday, more than 7,200 people have been hospitalised with cholera across Haiti and at least 155 have died since the outbreak began in early October, according to the latest figures (PDF) from Haiti’s public health ministry.

But UN and Haitian officials have said they fear cases will rise, especially after the end of a weeks-long, gang-led blockade on a key petrol terminal that paralysed the capital. The blockade was lifted this month and petrol stations are reopening.

“The cholera situation in Haiti continues to worsen,” Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Dr Carissa Etienne said during a separate briefing on Wednesday.

“This is a dangerous situation, and PAHO urges all countries to increase vigilance, while we support Haiti in providing life-saving care to patients, deploying health workers and facilitating access to fuel for health facilities,” Etienne said.

Haitian hospitals said in late September that they were being forced to cut back on services due to the blockade on the Varreux fuel terminal, which spurred water and electricity shortages and complicated the local response to the cholera outbreak.

Powerful Haitian gangs have been battling for control in the aftermath of President Jovenel Moise’s assassination in July 2021, which worsened political instability in the country.

Trucks being loaded with fuel at the Varreux terminal in Port-au-Prince
A weeks-long blockade on the Varreux fuel terminal was lifted earlier this month [Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters]

Last month, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said nearly half of the Haitian population – a record 4.7 million people – were dealing with “acute hunger”. The violence-plagued Port-au-Prince neighbourhood of Cite Soleil faced a particularly alarming situation.

“Currently, 65 percent of its population, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, are in high levels of food insecurity with 5 percent of them in urgent need of humanitarian assistance,” WFP reported on October 14.

Cholera is caused by drinking water or eating food contaminated with cholera bacteria, and it can trigger severe diarrhoea as well as vomiting, thirst and other symptoms. It also spreads rapidly in areas without adequate sewage treatment or clean drinking water.

Haiti had last reported a cholera case more than three years ago, after a 2010 outbreak linked to United Nations peacekeepers caused approximately 10,000 deaths and more than 820,000 infections.

PAHO has warned that as many as 500,000 Haitians are at risk of contracting cholera in the current outbreak.

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