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Nearly half the people in Haiti don't have enough to eat and cholera makes it worse

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Haiti is embroiled in a crisis of epic proportions. Gang violence and hunger are rampant, and cholera has made things worse. The death toll from these calamities is mounting daily, and the United Nations Security Council is weighing options on how to restore order to the Western Hemisphere's poorest country. The U.N.'s food assistance branch, the World Food Program, says nearly half the population, 4.7 million people, now faces acute hunger. The WFP's Haiti representative Jean-Martin Bauer joins us now from Port-au-Prince. If you could just first start off with the situation in Haiti, what are you seeing there?

JEAN-MARTIN BAUER: We're seeing a severe food crisis, and we are sounding the alarm. Half of the population is facing acute food insecurity. That's 4.7 million people, of which 1.8 million are in what we call a food emergency. We also have 19,000 people who live in Port-au-Prince's Cite Soleil district who are facing what we'd call a food catastrophe. This is the most severe situation for food security. This is something we haven't seen in Haiti before, and it's something we haven't seen in the Americas before, that severity of food security.

MARTINEZ: And kids - how is this having an impact on kids?

BAUER: Of course, children are the most vulnerable. Recent data suggests that 1 out of every 5 children in this neighborhood of Cite Soleil is affected by global acute malnutrition.

MARTINEZ: Two of the World Food Program storage facilities were looted last month. What happened there? I mean, what's the impact of the looting on the people that you're serving over there?

BAUER: We need to understand that the millions of people in Haiti have been affected by what Haitians call la vie chere, expensive life. High food prices in Haiti have been quite a problem since the beginning of the year. Haiti imports most of its food, and half of its food is bought on the international market. When there's trouble on international markets, the Haitian population is affected directly. You add to that the fact that there's a severe gas shortage in the country - people just can't go about their daily lives as they used to. And unfortunately, the World Food Program and other humanitarian organizations were targeted. We lost our warehouse in Gonaives on September the 15, and that was followed by another incident in Les Cayes where stocks were looted.

The impact of that is quite dire. It means that we're not able to provide school meals to 100,000 schoolchildren in the northwest of the country for at least three months. And in the south, we lost our contingency reserve. This is a stock we've got in place to help people who might be affected by an emergency, like a hurricane or an earthquake. I remind you that Haiti is a very disaster-prone environment, and we had those stocks in country to help people who'd be affected. As a result, this means humanitarian agencies are not as ready to respond to the needs that are mounting in this country. And you did mention in your introduction there's gang violence.

MARTINEZ: Yeah.

BAUER: There's high food prices. There's also cholera that's making needs much, much worse. And these statistics we released on Friday indicate that this situation in Haiti is severe. We're seeing a severe food crisis. This is bordering on a catastrophe for 19,000 people here in Port-au-Prince.

MARTINEZ: How much of an impact have the gangs had on people's lives there?

BAUER: What they've done is that by controlling key infrastructure, including the fuel terminal and the ports in Port-au-Prince, they've brought this country to a standstill. This means that farmers can't sell their produce in Port-au-Prince. I remember meeting a farmer in the north who'd grown acres of bananas, who was no longer able to sell them because he's lost his market, as the gangs control the road. We've seen people who are suffering from the fact that public transportation has come to a standstill. They can't get to work. Hospitals have shut down or curtailed services. Schools are closed. So this is a massive impact on all aspects of Haitian society.

MARTINEZ: Is this the worst you've seen Haiti in all your time being there 'cause it just - it sounds as awful as it possibly can get?

BAUER: Well, Haiti's unfortunately gone through the gauntlet over the past dozen years. There was a very serious earthquake in 2010. That was followed by a cholera outbreak that killed over 10,000 people. There was then Hurricane Matthew in 2016, followed by an earthquake in 2021. So it just doesn't stop for Haiti. And unfortunately, these repeated crises have undermined people's ability to cope. And we are now again in a food crisis that's come as a result of not what happened over the past few months, but over years and perhaps decades of neglect and decline.

MARTINEZ: At the moment, is there any hope there right now? Is the spirit of the people there still intact, not broken yet?

BAUER: Oh, it's very resilient. I met my team in Gonaives where a house was looted and that - the people we have in Gonaives told me we want to get back to work. We want to assist the population. We want to meet our commitments to the communities. So I've seen a dire situation, but I've also seen Haitians themselves call on getting back up and getting assistance going again.

MARTINEZ: That's Jean-Martin Bauer, World Food Program's Haiti representative. Thank you very much.

BAUER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.