Half of Haiti’s earthquake victims still have not received assistance, U.N. says

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A month after a deadly earthquake devastated communities along Haiti’s southern peninsula, many of the urgent humanitarian needs continue to go unmet, with some people yet to receive any aid, the United Nations said Thursday.

Of the 800,000 people estimated to have been affected by the powerful 7.2 magnitude temblor, which damaged or destroyed thousands of homes, schools and churches in three regional departments of southern Haiti, about 400,000 are still in need of some initial assistance. Some have not yet received aid because they live in remote areas. Others still lack access to potable drinking water or need help to return to school because so many schools were destroyed, said Bruno Lemarquis, the U.N.’s resident and humanitarian coordinator in Haiti.

“The resilience of the Haitian people has really been pushed to the brink,” he said. “We must ensure that Haiti does not become one small forgotten crisis in the context of this earthquake.”

Lemarquis said while U.N. agencies “have reached half of the people” affected by the latest natural disaster to rock the Caribbean nation, there is still a lot to do and the support of the international community is needed not just for the immediate humanitarian needs but the long-term recovery and reconstruction.

The dire situation in Haiti has been complicated by the country’s many crises, which include lack of food, recurring political instability and armed gang violence. The quake came a month after the shocking assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, whose death has thrown the country deeper into political disarray.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Ariel Henry installed a new justice minister after firing the previous one, along with the chief prosecutor for Port-au-Prince and a key adviser of the late president, following efforts by the three to link him to Moïse’s assassination. Fired Prosecutor Bed-Ford Claude had sought to bring charges against Henry and bar him from leaving the country, citing two phone calls to Henry from a key suspect and fugitive in the murder investigation hours after the president was killed.

Late Wednesday, after meeting with Henry, diplomats representing the U.S., France, U.N. and others in the international community called on Haiti’s warring political factions to embark on dialogue, and said it was encouraging efforts by Henry, political parties and civil society to find an agreement for an inclusive government.

Lemarquis said the latest political turmoil has not had any impact on the national and regional engagement of Haitian officials in their response to the quake. “Everybody is absolutely fully committed at national and regional level to support victims of the earthquake. There is no impact on the national leadership, on the engagement,” he said.

However, the security situation remains tense, with gangs controlling some of the access roads to the south.

Initially, the humanitarian effort was aided by the U.S. military, which provided lifesaving airlifts. With the military no longer involved, the U.N. is now trying to use alternative roads as well as helicopters and boats to reach the communities, said Giuseppe Loprete, the International Organization for Migration chief of mission in Haiti.

“We are exploring all possible logistics solutions,” Loprete said. “But the issue of security is of course a main concern for us.”

Of a $187.3 million appeal the U.N. issued to pay for shelter, water and other assistance to help a half-million quake victims, only about one-third has been raised from donors, Lemarquis said. Last week, UNICEF and the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization also issued urgent appeals for funding, citing the destruction of hundreds of schools and the damage to agriculture.

Hundreds of people remain missing after the quake, which killed over 2,200 people and injured more than 12,700. Meanwhile, the three regional departments struck by the disaster have experienced close to 1,000 aftershocks since the Aug. 14 earthquake, and have been hit by more than 1,000 landslides, which have affected people’s livelihood and livestock, the U.N. said.

Despite this and the ongoing security concerns and political turmoil, the Biden administration Wednesday resumed repatriation flights to Haiti, enraging immigration and Haitian advocates; 86 Haitian nationals were expelled to Haiti by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Hours after the 7.2 magnitude earthquake, President Joe Biden released a statement saying that the United States was a ‘friend’ of Haiti. A ‘friend’ does not continuously inflict pain on another friend,” said Guerline Jozef, co-founder and executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance.

Jozef, who called sending Haitians back “cruel and unconscionable,” said the plane was full of families under Title 42, including children under the age of 3, without offering them legal protection and the opportunity to file for asylum. Title 42 is a border management policy that was first used by the Trump administration, citing the coronavirus pandemic.

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, said the renewed Haitian deportation flights are something the group would have expected from the Trump administration.

“Given the instability and suffering on the ground in Haiti, the last thing we should be doing is deporting Haitians,” he said. “These deportation flights should stop, full stop.”

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