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The political upheaval in Haiti has triggered a new humanitarian crisis


Political upheaval has triggered a new humanitarian crisis in Haiti. The acting prime minister says he is resigning, and void of leadership, water and food shortages are growing worse. The U.N. says 1.4 million people are starving. There is mass displacement and a spiral of gang violence that especially puts women and girls at great risk. Dorilia Honore (ph) is trying to survive on the street in Port-au-Prince.

DORILIA HONORE: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTÍNEZ: She says she's a mother of six who had to leave her home and now has nothing to cook for her children. Life is very bad, she says. Philippe Serge Degernier is the United Nations Population Fund representative in Haiti. He joins us now from Panama City, where he's been stranded, unable to return to Haiti. Philippe, what are you hearing from relief workers in Haiti? What are their biggest needs?

PHILIPPE SERGE DEGERNIER: Well, the biggest news is that we basically having a humanitarian catastrophe for women and girls at the doorstep of Florida in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a capital city of 3 million inhabitants, where the government has declared a state of emergency, given the fact that the gangs have gathered all together to overthrow the government. As we have seen in the news now, the prime minister has stepped down. There is a little bit of a calm situation for the time being, but what we're facing is, since 29 February, roughly 4,000 criminals out of jailhouses, people basically being harassed, and the only thing that we can get for free is bullets, as gangs are basically attacking institutions, and they are destroying police stations. They are preventing people from getting - women and girls from getting to hospitals. Out of the 15 hospitals that UNFPA is supporting, only one is currently functioning and is overwhelmed. If the situation continues like that, basically that means that about 3,000 women will not be able to go to maternity, to give birth. And out of these 3,000, about 500 will face obstetrical consequence which can lead to death. So the situation is very dark.

MARTÍNEZ: So to be clear, no reproductive services right now - no reproductive health services are happening for women right now in Haiti.

DEGERNIER: Almost no reproductive services...


DEGERNIER: ...Are happening right now. In order to get these services, you need health care in the hospitals, and health care staff are too scared to go to the health care, to the hospitals. What is happening is that you either have to stay home because it's too dangerous to go out or you cannot go to the hospital because it's too dangerous to enter the hospitals, given the ongoing fighting. The worst thing is that also doctors are considered as a good kidnapped commodity in a sense that they are considered as people having money and therefore are sought after by the gangs. And just imagine if you're a woman and you have to go to the hospital...


DEGERNIER: ...For anything which is - anything related to your health, you have basically to face the consequence of being kidnapped or being harassed or being gang-raped or being raped. Last year we're talking about more than 5,000 women which were raped or sexually harassed during the whole year, and that is a tiny part...


DEGERNIER: ...Of the iceberg. These are official statistics which do not reflect the reality.

MARTÍNEZ: Philippe, I know things were already bad, and they're getting much worse now. You know, I saw that Kenya is pausing deployment of the security force that was going to be on the way until a new government is in place in Haiti. So they're not even coming. How might that make things worse, or at least just not be helpful in terms of getting people the aid they need, not having that security force there?

DEGERNIER: The police is currently overwhelmed by the situation, and once the gangs are basically all together to tank the institutions, that means less security, more criminality. And what Haiti needs now is basically peace and security. What women and girls need is basically to be able to go to the health center, to the education facility, to the school, to get a normal life back, to be able to work and to make a living. Without that, you cannot have a decent development. You cannot have people living correctly.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Philippe Serge Degernier, the United Nations Population Fund representative in Haiti. Philippe, thank you very much.

DEGERNIER: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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