UN Appeals for $674 Million as Gang Violence in Haiti Escalates With Killings and Sexual Violence

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Indiscriminate violence in Haiti is escalating -- especially in the capital and surrounding region -- with armed gangs carrying out killings and acts of sexual violence, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in the conflict-wracked Caribbean nation said Wednesday.

Ulrika Richardson told U.N. reporters in a virtual press conference from the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, that " the level of violence that people are exposed to is inhuman."

In her many years working for the United Nations, Richardson said, "I've seen things here that I've never seen in my life," that go beyond "your worst nightmare."

It's the suffering and pain that men, women and children are subjected to, she said, pointing to a 50% increase in sexual violence between 2022 and 2023, and the 314,000 Haitians who have now fled their homes to escape the violence, many living on the streets and in schools, and in need of humanitarian aid.

Richardson said 5.5 million Haitians are in need of assistance, including 4.4 million -- about 40% of the population -- facing "huge food insecurity."

The U.N. just launched its humanitarian appeal for this year and is seeking $674 million, with about half the money earmarked for food.

Even though needs are higher this year, Richardson said the appeal is lower than the $720 million appeal for 2023, which was only 34% funded.

She explained that the U.N. political mission in Haiti has "tried to be much more targeted," and has seen that U.N. cooperation with local organizations has worked and is now looking at how it can better rely on those organizations.

Gangs have grown more powerful and political instability has increased since the 2021 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, who had faced protests calling for his resignation over corruption charges and claims that his five-year term had expired.

More than 8,400 people were reported killed, injured or kidnapped in 2023 -- more than double the number reported in 2022. The gangs continue to fight over territory, and are estimated to control up to 80% of Port-au-Prince.

Kenya agreed to lead a multinational force in Haiti that was authorized by the U.N. Security Council in October to help restore peace and security, and said it would send 1,000 police officers. However, it's unclear when or if a deployment will occur because a court in Kenya ruled in January that the deployment is unconstitutional. The East African nation's government has said it is appealing the ruling.

On Monday, the United States government reiterated its support to help restore peace and calm to Haiti, saying it will provide money, equipment and logistical support to a multinational force whose deployment remains uncertain.

Asked about support from Haitians for a multinational force, she replied: "If you would ask people on the street if they need assistance to deal with a gang violence, they will say yes."