UN Agencies Decry Humanitarian Crisis in Haiti and Seek Help for Hungry Families Fleeing Violence

JEREMIE, Haiti (AP) -- The executive directors of two U.N. agencies warned Tuesday that Haiti's humanitarian crisis has reached unprecedented levels amid reports of widespread hunger and gang violence.

Per capita, the number of Haitians facing emergency-level food insecurity is the second highest in the world, with nearly 5 million struggling to eat every day, said Cindy McCain, executive director of the World Food Program. More than 115,000 children younger than 5 also are expected to struggle with malnutrition this year, a 30% surge compared with last year.

"In many ways, Haiti is forgotten," she told The Associated Press while on a three-day trip to the Caribbean country. "It is urgent that we pay attention."

Overall, more than 5 million people in the country of more than 11 million need urgent humanitarian support, according to the U.N. agencies.

"Humanitarian needs are even greater today that after the devastating 2010 earthquake, but with far less resources to respond," said Catherine Russell, UNICEF's executive director.

Both Russell and McCain met with Prime Minister Ariel Henry and other officials during their trips to Haiti.

McCain also traveled to the southwest coastal city of Jeremie, which was recently hit by a 4.9 magnitude earthquake that killed at least four people. It also is struggling to recover from heavy floods earlier this month that affected most of the country and killed more than 50 people.

McCain met with children at a local primary school where the World Food Program helps feed more than 600 children whose meals are prepared with local crops.

Among them is Jules Evanse, an 11-year-old student who told the AP that the free meals have helped him and his family.

"If I can't find food at home, I know that I will find food at school," he said. "The food gives me energy to work."

Lidy Azor, a nurse and mother of two who fled Port-au-Prince amid relentless gang violence, said the program has helped her save money and feel relieved that her children are being fed.

"It helps us in every way," she said.

Haiti's problems have worsened since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, with gangs now estimated to control up to 80% of Port-au-Prince. The violence has led to a spike in starvation, with goods unable to move freely while people are forced to remain in their homes out of fear for their lives.