State Dept. slaps travel warning on southern Haiti amid aid protests

State Dept. slaps travel warning on southern Haiti amid aid protests

By Luke Vargas   

The U.S. government warned against visits to the storm-ravaged "southern claw," citing security risks, food and water shortages.

UNITED NATIONS – U.S. citizens are being urged to avoid travel to Haiti’s storm-ravaged “southern claw” after a spate of robberies targeting aid convoys, the State Department announced in a new travel warning on Friday.

Those who choose to travel to the southern peninsula are urged to “maintain a high degree of vigilance” and carry additional provisions given “widespread damage” to infrastructure.

According to the latest warning, “some relief convoys and other vehicles have been subject to robbery at improvised roadblocks or when stopped. U.S. citizens approaching roadblocks are advised to turn back, as the situation will likely not improve beyond the first roadblock.”

One month since Hurricane Matthew slammed into Haiti as a category 4 storm, the U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) has delivered food to some 400,000 Haitians, but need continues to dwarf available aid.

More than 800,000 Haitians remain in urgent need of food assistance. At least 112,000 children are considered “at risk of acute malnutrition.”

A map uses SIM card movement data to estimate the number of Haitians displaced from their home community's since Hurricane Matthew. Credit:
A map uses SIM card movement data to estimate the number of Haitians displaced from their home community’s since Hurricane Matthew. Credit:

Damaged infrastructure is still complicating aid delivery across much of Haiti’s southern peninsula, though the U.N.’s World Food Programme and other aid groups have also been forced to cancel food deliveries on account of the “volatile security situation,” particularly around the cities of Les Cayes and Jérémie.

On Tuesday, a teenage boy was shot and killed by police in Les Cayes after attempting to board a boat carrying humanitarian aid from Puerto Rico. A similar incident in Les Cayes last month left another teenager severely injured after being shot in the chest during a looting incident.

“[Aid] distribution points have also been the scenes of mob actions that have overwhelmed available security,” Friday’s State Department travel advisory said. “U.S. citizens are advised to maintain a high degree of vigilance and leave any areas where crowds gather.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was a witness to mounting frustration over delays in aid delivery during a quick visit to Les Cayes last month, telling reporters that he “personally witnessed a WFP truck being attacked.”

Ban attempted to reassure the Haitian population by promising to do “all we can to facilitate the arrival of the assistance as soon as possible.”

But, two weeks on from that visit, the humanitarian situation remains dire and aid funding is being spent faster than it’s being received. Only 28 percent of the WFP’s $48 million Hurricane Matthew funding appeal has been received, despite what the agency calls “increasing needs.”

“Few countries have been dealt an unluckier hand than Haiti in the last few years,” said Marielle Sander, U.N. Population Fund country director.

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