Haiti conflict puts over 100,000 kids at risk of starving to death, UN says
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - More than 115,600 children in Haiti are expected to suffer severe wasting from malnutrition this year, the United Nations children's agency UNICEF said on Thursday, as an escalation of armed violence worsens food insecurity and a cholera outbreak.
That number is more than 30% higher than the 87,500 children UNICEF registered as suffering from the condition last year. It warned of a severe funding gap that "could put the lives of more than 100,000 children at risk of immediate death."
Heavily armed gangs have taken control of large swathes of the Caribbean island nation, with much of the violence centered in the capital Port-au-Prince, where the U.N. estimates more than 600 people were killed in April alone.
"The results of this study come at a key time since they will certainly be useful to us in planning our interventions on all fronts, in our fight against food insecurity," Prime Minister Ariel Henry said in a speech.
UNICEF released its study days after the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights renewed calls for an international force to support Haiti's fight against armed gangs. Henry's caretaker government had requested a "rapid" strike force last October.
The U.S. international law enforcement bureau said on Monday it had delivered armored vehicles purchased by Haiti's National Police, who are also awaiting another delayed order of armored vehicles from private Canadian firm INKAS.
The international community has, however, been wary of sending troops in support of Henry's unelected government.
Meanwhile, a grassroots vigilante justice movement known as "Bwa Kale" has gained force in recent weeks, challenging gangs and carrying out summary executions - sparking both optimism and fears of renewed violence.
"We are in a context that is sadly not going to become better in the coming months," said Victor Napoletano, who coordinates the International Rescue Committee's Haiti response in conjunction with local non-governmental organizations.
"Kidnappings are happening every day. Dead bodies are appearing every day. Not just one or two, its five or 10 that are being reported," he said.
In March, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) closed a hospital in the capital saying it could not guarantee the safety of its patients or staff.
U.N. agencies have repeatedly warned of chronic underfunding and "catastrophic" hunger in Haiti, saying lack of basic services lie at the root of the escalating violence.
(Reporting by Harold Isaac in Port-au-Prince and Sarah Morland in Mexico City; Editing by Paul Simao)