News Alert: Haiti’s Spiraling Gang Violence Threatens to Cut Off Capital and Hamper Earthquake Recovery Efforts

Haiti’s worsening gang violence threatens to completely isolate Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, compounding challenges to recovery efforts one year after a devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the country’s southwest peninsula, killing 2,248 people, damaging 140,000 buildings, and leaving 800,000 people in need of assistance.

Lunise Jules, Mercy Corps’ Country Director for Haiti, says:

“It is becoming increasingly challenging to safely move people and supplies in or out of Port-au-Prince as the gangs are getting bolder and control nearly every route. Six months ago, moving supplies by sea was safer because the key road from Port-au-Prince to the southwest peninsula was practically impossible to cross. Now dozens of gangs have taken over Cité Soleil, a suburb close to the port, forcing us to use unpredictable and still dangerous land routes. Every day we must make impossible choices between high-risk options that put our staff in harm’s way.”

The number of gangs has grown exponentially over the past year, surrounding Haiti’s capital and forcing families to flee. According to the Humans Rights Defense Network, there were 90 gangs in the country in 2021. Now, according to the “Je Klere” Foundation, a non-profit citizen monitoring organization, that number has risen to 150, including 92 gangs in Port-au-Prince. Between January and June, 934 people were killed, 684 injured, and 680 kidnapped across the capital due to gang violence. Between July 8th and 17th, according to the United Nations more than 471 people were killed in Cité Soleil alone, and 3,000 were forced to leave their homes, including hundreds of children.

Cassendy Charles, Mercy Corps’ Emergency Program Manager in Haiti, says:

“In Port-au-Prince, a lot of young people have joined gangs because they don’t have food or money. Some left the southwest peninsula after the earthquake looking for new job opportunities in the capital. Once they got there, they couldn’t find a job but needed to send money home to support their families so they joined a gang.”

“In the southwest peninsula food insecurity continues to be the most pressing challenge we face as recovery efforts grind on. At least 40% of the damaged buildings still need to be reconstructed, and communities struggle to simultaneously rebuild their homes, schools, and hospitals while putting food on the table.” 

Food insecurity continues to deteriorate in Haiti, exacerbated by violence, political instability, climate shocks, and most recently, the effects of the war in Ukraine on supply chains and food and fuel pricing. According to the World Food Program, 4.5 million Haitians are experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity, and 1.3 million are at risk of severe hunger.

Mercy Corps has been supporting community recovery following the 2021 earthquake, distributing flexible cash assistance to more than 2,500 families (13,230 individuals), 600 businesses, and 45 farmers associations. 

The organization has worked in Haiti since 2010 to boost small businesses and entrepreneurs, build up young people’s skills to become productive, peaceful, and active members of their communities, help communities better prepare for disasters, and improve the incomes and harvests, food security and practices of rural farmers.