UN warns surge in gang violence puts pregnant women at risk in Haiti

‘Too many women and young women in Haiti are victims of indiscriminate violence committed by armed gangs,’ UN says.

People flee gang violence in Haiti
People flee gang violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 6 [Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters]

The United Nations has warned that nearly 3,000 pregnant women could be cut off from essential health services in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, which has been paralysed as a result of surging gang violence.

In a statement on Friday to mark International Women’s Day, the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) said nearly 450 pregnant women could suffer “life-threatening” complications without access to healthcare.

Another 521 survivors of sexual violence — a prevalent problem that has worsened amid the instability in Haiti — also could be cut off from medical services by the end of the month if the violence persists, the UN office warned.

“Today, too many women and young women in Haiti are victims of indiscriminate violence committed by armed gangs,” said Ulrika Richardson, BINUH’s deputy special representative.

Widespread gang violence has plagued Haiti for nearly three years, particularly after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021 deepened political instability in the Caribbean nation.

The crisis worsened last weekend when gunmen overwhelmed the main penitentiary in Port-au-Prince and another nearby prison, freeing thousands of inmates in a raid that left several people dead.

Haiti’s de facto leader, Prime Minister Ariel Henry, was out of the country when the recent spate of violence erupted, and gang leaders have called for his immediate resignation.

Henry — who has faced a crisis of legitimacy since he took up his post less than two weeks after President Moise’s killing — has been in the US territory of Puerto Rico since earlier this week, apparently unable or unwilling to return to Haiti.

He had previously travelled to Kenya in late February in an attempt to revive plans for a multi-national security force to help bolster Haiti’s police forces.

On Friday, the US Department of State said Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Henry a day earlier and urged the Haitian leader to “expedite a political transition through the creation of a broad-based, independent presidential college”.

This would then help “steer the country toward the deployment of a Multinational Security Support mission and free and fair elections”, the State Department said in a readout of the talks.

“The Secretary [Blinken] urged Henry to support this proposal in the interest of restoring peace and stability to Haiti so the Haitian people can resume their daily lives free from violence and despair.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies