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Haiti: a chronic humanitarian crisis

30-04-2005 Operational Update

Haiti has suffered from a state of endemic violence and underdevelopment for decades, made worse by the political upheaval and several natural disasters it experienced in 2004. Against a backdrop of growing security concerns is a deepening humanitarian crisis.

 General situation  


Haiti is in the midst of a chronic humanitarian crisis brought on by a mix of political instability, violence and recurrent natural disasters.

In the last ten years alone, Haiti has suffered twenty major natural disasters. The last two, torrential rains and flooding in May 2004 and the passage of Tropical Storm Jeanne in September together caused the death of some 5,000 people, injured several thousand and left some 400,000 homeless.

At the same time, political instability has increased alarmingly since the crisis that took hold of the country following the departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in early 2004. Hundreds of people have been killed in gunfights since renewed violence gripped the capital, Port-au-Prince, at the end of September 2004.

A number of armed groups are present across the country, ranging from members of the former armed forces, supporters of former president Aristide and other politically motivated groups. Violence is further exacerbated by the presence of criminal gangs. The UN stabilization mission (MINUSTAH) sent to Haiti is almost up to strength with a current presence of 6,000 troops. They carrying out regular interventions along with the Haitian national police (PNH), in the capital especially and elsewhere in the country .

In these conditions, the country is preparing to hold elections at the end of the year.

 Humanitarian situation  


Ordinary Haitians everywhere lack basic services and live in fear of politically motivated violence and common criminality, with the line separating the two increasingly hard to distinguish.

This is particularly true in Cité Soleil, a shantytown of half a million people on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. Until the recent involvement of the ICRC and the Haitian Red Cross through a water and sanitation project, Cité Soleil had no public services, functioning latrines or sewage system and only limited access to drinking water.

A contributing factor to the increase in violence and criminality was the freeing of almost the entire prison population, close to 4,000 people, when most of the detention centres were burnt down and ransacked in February and March 2004. It took several months to rebuild and rehabilitate the detention centres and, in the interim, re-captured detainees and new arrivals were often housed in overcrowded facilities. 

Another consequence of the political and criminal violence is the hundreds of bodies that end up hastily buried in unmarked pits in rubbish dumps surrounding cities after being piled up in Port-au-Prince's main morgue. In the capital alone, some 200 bodies are disposed of in this way every month.

 ICRC activities  


The ICRC is leading the activities of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement in Haiti. In order to help mitigate the humanitarian consequences of further political violence, the ICRC is focusing on maintaining a dialogue with all the different weapons bearers from the UN stabilization force and the Haitian police to former members of the armed forces and members of various other groups.


 Water and sanitation project in Cité Soleil   


Although it is rather unusual for the ICRC to work in an environment like Cité Soleil, the water and sanitation project launched by the ICRC and the Haitian Red Cross in mid-2004 is crucial. It is designed not only to address a humanitarian problem of appalling proportions but also to build up contacts with gang members, pro-Aristide supporters and UN authorized forces and Haitian police officers patrolling the area.

The aim of the project is to

  • double the amount of drinking water available to 12 litres per person per day and ensure that the state-run water company is involved in the management and maintenance of the water-supply network

  • install rubbish bins and ensure they are emptied and the contents disposed of properly by the state-run company responsible

  • rehabilitate communal latrines and ensure they are properly maintained

  • clean up the extensive network of blocked open-air canals and drains

An important element of the project is the involvement of the Haitian Red Cross and of committees drawn from the community itself.



In the first four months of 2005, the ICRC visited 30 places of detention, including prisons and police stations and monitored the treatment and material conditions of over 90 security detainees. Delegates registered 67 new detainees during thi s period.

The institution carried out small-scale rehabilitation of water and sanitation facilities in selected prisons and supplied detention centres with hygiene products and recreational items as needed. A training course aimed at nurses working in prisons is planned.

If necessary, the ICRC is also ready to work in coordination with the United Nations Development Programme and other organization involved in the structural support and training for the Haitian prison authorities.

 Mismanagement of human remains  


In February 2005, the ICRC's forensic coordinator travelled to Haiti to assess the issue of the mismanagement of human remains. The recommendations made will be the subject of a seminar organized by the ICRC on the management of human remains scheduled to take place in July in Port-au-Prince. 

 Supporting the Haitian Red Cross  


The ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are working together to build up the capacities of the Haitian Red Cross so that it will be in a better position to respond to future challenges.

A draft plan of action for 2005-2008 has been discussed among the Movement and been submitted to the Haitian Red Cross board of directors for approval. The ICRC has also provided intensive training for volunteers in the domain of tracing techniques.

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