After appeals for help: US sends disaster response team to Haiti

The US Agency for International Development is sending an elite disaster response team to Haiti "as insecurity, gang violence, and the humanitarian situation worsen" across the Caribbean nation, a US official told the Miami Herald, DPA reported.

The Disaster Response Team (DART/ERB) is “assessing needs and working closely with the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince, humanitarian partners, and the people of Haiti to determine how to provide assistance to the most vulnerable.” said the clerk.

Haiti has been gripped by near-total anarchy as gangs continue to block the country’s largest fuel terminal and block major thoroughfares, fueling a growing cholera epidemic.

ERBs are usually intended for severe humanitarian crises and disaster response. They are comprised of the government’s most highly qualified disaster response experts and aim to expedite needs assessment and delivery of assistance.

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden’s administration announced it would impose visa restrictions on people involved in gang activity and sent a large US Coast Guard vessel to monitor the coast of the Haitian capital.

The US also plans to push for a vote Monday on a UN Security Council resolution that would create a mechanism to impose international sanctions on gang leaders.

But as violence and disease worsen across the country, the Haitian government wants more, including an international rapid response force that can break through the gangs’ blockade of fuel ports.

The UN Secretary-General has called for international intervention to create a humanitarian corridor. So far, however, no country has expressed interest in sending military forces.

“In addition to mobilizing ERB, the U.S. continues to monitor the situation in Haiti closely and is working with international partners to determine needs and provide additional assistance. The American people have a proud and generous history of providing assistance in times of crisis. The U.S. Agency for International Development remains committed to helping the people of Haiti at this difficult time,” the US official said

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the UN’s World Food Program warned yesterday that soaring inflation and four weeks of blocked access to fuel, jobs, food, and public transport were sending the country into a downward spiral.

“There is an alarming increase” in hunger in Cite Soleil, the UN agency said. 65% of the population of Haiti’s largest slum – especially the poorest and most vulnerable – are experiencing the worst, with 5% in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

Increased violence in Cite Soleil, where armed groups are fighting for control of the area, means residents have lost access to their jobs, markets, and health and food services. Many of them were forced to flee or hide in their homes.

Food remains scarce in rural areas, with some moving from crisis to emergency.

“Crop losses due to below-average rainfall and the 2021 earthquake that devastated parts of three departments are among the shocks that worsened conditions,” the agencies said in a statement.

The US and its partners are particularly concerned about the growing cholera epidemic. The UN’s lead child protection agency, UNICEF, said nearly 100,000 children under the age of 5, already suffering from severe acute malnutrition, are particularly vulnerable to cholera.

Since the disease was first reported on October 2, there have been 357 suspected cases, more than half of them in children under the age of 14.

Children between the ages of 1 and 4 are at the greatest risk. “The crisis in Haiti is increasingly becoming a crisis for children,” said Bruno Maes, UNICEF’s representative in Haiti.

“One in three cholera patients is under the age of 5. For children who are already weak due to lack of nutritious food, contracting cholera and its consequences, including diarrhea and vomiting, is a near-death sentence. They must be urgently identified and treated, and concrete measures to prevent new cases of cholera in communities.”

Maes noted that thousands of families are struggling with a lack of food in Cite Soleil, which has been ravaged by a new round of violence since July when more than 470 people died or went missing as a result of gang warfare. Added to the threat of armed gangs, which drastically reduces the population’s access to basic services, is the ongoing blockade of fuel by the gangs.

“Time is against us as cholera spreads rapidly and there is a risk that the epidemic will get out of control,” Maes said.

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