The COVID-19 outbreak could trigger a humanitarian catastrophe in Haiti, endangering many years of hard-won progress in the Caribbean nation, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) said on Friday.
In a statement, ECOSOC’s Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Haiti called for immediate action to address health and humanitarian needs, alongside ongoing efforts to promote sustainable development and resilience to future shocks.
It asked the United Nations, Member States, donors, international financial institutions and others to urgently act together to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to mitigate its humanitarian and socio-economic consequences.
Six million people already live below the poverty line in Haiti and 40 per cent of the population is food insecure, it explained, adding that the 2020 hurricane season – which runs from June through November – could further compound existing challenges.
“Unless adequately managed, the COVID-19 health emergency and its socio-economic impact could become a humanitarian catastrophe, threatening to unravel some of the hard-won development and security gains achieved in the past decade and a half in Haiti”, it said.
The 17-member Ad Hoc Advisory Group, chaired by Canada and including Haiti, closely monitors the situation in Haiti and provides advice on its long-term development strategy.
COVID-19 pushes more into poverty
It said that it expects the novel coronavirus crisis to deepen the humanitarian, human rights and economic crisis in Haiti and to exacerbate existing vulnerabilities, pushing more people into poverty.
With classrooms closed, some 300,000 children are missing daily school meals, putting them at risk of stunted growth, it said.
The pandemic could also further erode Haitians’ confidence in national institutions, exacerbate political and social tensions, prompt human rights violations and lead to renewed violence, it added.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported Friday a total of 101 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 12 deaths, in Haiti as of Thursday.
The Ad Hoc Advisory Group welcomed the Government’s prompt response to the crisis as well as the support offered to it by the UN country team and the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH).
In its most recent update on Haiti, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on 24 April that close to four million Haitians need urgent food assistance, and that at least 1 million of those are suffering from severe hunger.
In the capital Port-au-Prince alone, 850,000 people are food insecure, said the UN food agency, which is scaling up its food assistance programme in Haiti and appealing for an additional $140 million for emergency food assistance.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent Government restrictions on movements and gatherings are expected to put a further strain on the poorest households, pushing even more Haitians into severe hunger”, it said.
Last week, a group of 13 independent UN human rights experts called on Secretary-General António Guteres to “urgently step up efforts” to fulfil a UN pledge to help victims of a nine-year cholera epidemic in Haiti that killed more than 10,000 citizens.