Millions face "acute hunger" in Haiti, warns United Nations

A record 4.7 million people in Haiti are facing acute hunger, including 19,000 in catastrophic famine conditions for the first time, all in slums controlled by gangs in the capital, according to a UN report.

The World Food Programme and Food and Agriculture Organisation said unrelenting crises have trapped Haitians “in a cycle of growing desperation, without access to food, fuel, markets, jobs and public services, bringing the country to a standstill”.

The report by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, which is a global partnership of 15 UN agencies and international humanitarian groups, paints a grim picture of escalating hunger in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.

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The partnership uses five categories of food security, from Phase 1 in which people have enough to eat to Phase 5 in which households have an extreme lack of food and face famine, starvation, death and destitution.

In the capital, Port-au-Prince, where armed gangs are vieing for control, around19,000 people in one district are now in the latter, most seriously deprived, group.

According to the analysis, a record 4.7 million Haitians are in the three worst categories – 2.9 million in “crisis” Phase 3 characterised by gaps in food consumption and acute malnutrition, 1.8 million in “emergency” Phase 4 in which there are large gaps in food consumption, very high acute malnutrition and excess deaths, and 19,000 in “famine” Phase 5.

The report said food security has also continued to deteriorate in Haiti’s rural areas.

Haiti has been gripped by inflation and political gridlock that have exacerbated protests and brought society to breaking point.

Daily life in the country began to spin out of control last month just hours after Prime Minister Ariel Henry said fuel subsidies would be eliminated, causing prices to double.

Rising prices have put food and fuel out of reach of many Haitians, clean water is scarce, and the country is trying to deal with a cholera outbreak.

UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said: “Harvest losses due to below average rainfall and last year’s earthquake that devastated parts of the country’s south are among the shocks that worsened conditions for people.”

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He said violence, unrest and tensions in Cite Soleil have limited access by humanitarian workers to the district.

“We don’t know necessarily how bad it’s getting, although it’s very clear it’s very bad indeed,” he added. “We need to get access to people; we need to make sure that we can get food to people.”

The World Food Programme is seeking £94 million for the next six months, while the Food and Agriculture Organisation said it urgently needs some £29.5 million.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s representative in Haiti, Jose Luis Fernandez Filgueiras, said: “We need to help Haitians produce better, more nutritious food to safeguard their livelihoods and their futures.”