What's In Blue

Posted Fri 20 Aug 2021

Haiti: Meeting on the Humanitarian Situation under “Any Other Business”

On Monday (23 August), Security Council members will discuss the humanitarian situation in Haiti under “any other business”, after the country was struck by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake on 14 August and tropical storm “Grace” on 16 and 17 August. Mexico, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the US requested the meeting. Special Representative and head of the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) Helen La Lime and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths are the expected briefers.

The earthquake, which was followed by aftershocks in the ensuing days, exceeded in magnitude the 2010 quake, which claimed some 300,000 lives in the Caribbean country.  On 18 August, OCHA reported that more than 2,000 people were killed and approximately 10,000 were injured. Both figures are likely to rise, as relief efforts underway are hampered by damage to infrastructure; flooding and rainfall caused by “Grace”; security constraints as gangs control access to main supply roads and urban areas; and roadblocks erected by communities in an attempt to divert aid in their direction.

The epicentre of the earthquake was in the south-western part of the country; the Sud, Nippes and Grand’Anse departments were hardest hit. In those areas, the Haitian Civil Protection General Directorate reported that 137,000 families had been affected, with some 500,000 persons—representing about 40 percent of the population across the three departments—in need of emergency humanitarian assistance. Some 61,000 homes in that region have been destroyed and more than 76,000 damaged. With thousands displaced and rendered homeless, lack of sanitary conditions and access to safe water are causes for concern, especially as they may increase the risk of the spread of infectious diseases. Addressing medical issues may also pose a challenge, as 20 health facilities across the south-western departments have sustained damage and four have been destroyed.

The international community has mobilised support in the past days to assist Haiti in addressing the myriad of new and ongoing humanitarian challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, displacement of several thousand persons due to gang violence, and high levels of food insecurity. In a statement issued on 17 August, Secretary-General António Guterres called on all member states to “mobilise efforts to support Haiti in averting a humanitarian disaster” and stated that UN entities on the ground are working with the Haitian government and mobilising resources and personnel. UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination teams have been dispatched, and the UN Central Emergency Response Fund has allocated $8 million to address the most pressing basic needs.

On 19 August, Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed travelled to Haiti and engaged with the UN Country Team and civil society representatives to discuss how to best support the crisis response. Mohammed also met with Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who took office on 21 July.

The earthquake and tropical storm “Grace” came amid a new period of political turmoil in Haiti. On 7 July, President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated at his home in an attack, which also left his wife severely injured. According to media reports, Haitian authorities arrested 44 people in connection with the assassination, including 12 Haitian police officers, 18 Colombians who were allegedly part of a mercenary team that carried out the attack, and two Americans of Haitian descent.

The assassination was followed by several days of uncertainty regarding the political leadership of the country. On 5 July, Moïse had appointed Henry to succeed then-interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph, whose appointment was set to expire in mid-July. Although appointed, Henry had not been sworn in, leaving room for speculation regarding his legitimacy. On 19 July, Joseph stepped down, paving the way for Henry to officially assume power. Prior to Moïse’s assassination, Haiti was set to hold legislative and presidential elections and a controversial referendum to change the constitution on 26 September. Once he came to power, Henry pledged to hold elections as swiftly as possible. However, he later announced that the elections would be postponed to 7 November.

At Monday’s meeting, Council members are likely to engage in a frank exchange with the briefers to gain a detailed understanding of the situation on the ground, the rising humanitarian needs, and the ongoing crisis response efforts, especially since humanitarian actors anticipate that the needs of the population will rise in the coming weeks. Some members may pose questions on such issues as how to facilitate the continuous and safe access of humanitarian actors to those in need; how to secure and provide the required levels of funding and aid; how to provide shelter for those who have lost their homes; how to address food insecurity; and how to provide the needed medical assistance and to create sanitary conditions. Council members may also be interested in hearing about efforts to maintain a safe environment for the local population and international humanitarian actors amidst an already precarious security situation.

While several donors and humanitarian actors mobilise or pledge support, some international and Haitian interlocutors have been calling for responsible aid management, recalling the mismanagement of funds and the uncoordinated response efforts in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. In this regard, Council members may wish to learn more about the Haitian government’s efforts to coordinate the influx of aid. Henry announced on 20 August the establishment of an ad-hoc working group consisting of political actors, civil society, the private sector and members of the diaspora to facilitate the transparency of the aid delivery process.

Some members may also wish to hear from the briefers their assessment of the potential implications of the humanitarian crisis on the political landscape. Members might express concern that the dire humanitarian situation, displacement, and the destruction of vital infrastructure may adversely affect electoral preparations.

Assisting Haitian authorities in overcoming the humanitarian crisis and addressing political tensions are likely to be key considerations for members, as they consider the upcoming negotiations on BINUH’s mandate, which expires on 15 October.