Haiti’s surge in gang violence affecting fuel deliveries. Lives could be lost, UN says

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An ongoing fuel crisis in Haiti, where 16 kidnapped Americans and one Canadian remain in the hands of a notorious armed gang, is likely to lead to a loss of lives if fuel doesn’t arrived at hospitals and health clinics by Tuesday, the United Nations is warning.

Hospitals over the weekend began refusing admissions and shortening the stay of patients over the lack of fuel. In a communique, an association of private hospitals warns that if a humanitarian corridor isn’t quickly established to allow for fuel deliveries some facilities will have no choice but to start closing their doors as of Monday.

“Lives are likely to be lost in Haiti if fuel deliveries do not reach hospitals immediately,” said Pierre Honnorat, the interim UN humanitarian coordinator in Haiti.

U.N. humanitarian aid agencies say they are extremely concerned by the worsening crisis resulting from roadblocks that prevent fuel transport, impede the delivery of essential services and hamper access by aid workers, particularly those still trying to provide emergency assistance to victims of the devastating Aug. 14 earthquake along the southern peninsula.

“The upsurge in gang violence, as well as fuel shortages resulting from the blockades, affected the delivery of aid to the earthquake area as well as to other parts of the country,” the UN said in a statement. The United Nations and its partners in Haiti remain committed to helping those in need, but in order to do that we must be able to access them.”

The UN says it needs “all actors in Haiti who have influence over the current situation to ensure that fuel supplies can be delivered to hospitals so that life-saving services can be provided to those in need and to ensure that that humanitarian access to people affected by the earthquake in the southwest not be further hampered.”

Last week, Haiti’s only pediatric hospital, St. Damien, and its sister facility for pregnant women, St. Luc, which also operates one of the few COVID facilities in the country, said they only had 6,000 gallons of diesel in reserve.

“A fuel shortage situation resulting from deleterious security conditions risks paralysis of the hospitals of the organization Nos Petits Frères et Sœurs [NPFS] and the St. Luc Foundation [FSL],“ officials said in the Oct. 23 note. “If no delivery of diesel is guaranteed as soon as possible, the pediatric services, for more than 300 children, maternity services for more than 45 women, urgent care and hospitalization for more than 70 adults, including trauma care, will be interrupted for lack of fuel on Tuesday, October 26, 2021.”

The executive director of St Damien hospital and the CEO of the St. Luc Foundation both noted that the two medical facilities are among the few that are still providing care and vaccines against an ongoing wave of COVID-19.

Over 150 hospitalized COVID-19 patients who need emergency care are particularly at risk because without fuel to make power generators work, they cannot be supplied with oxygen in hospitals that are not equipped with solar panels, UNICEF said. Haiti had registered 23,619 COVID-19 cases and 662 deaths as of Oct. 19.

The association of private hospitals is calling on the ministry of health to quickly address the problem to avoid hospital closures Monday, the same day that over a dozen trade unions planned for a new shutdown of the country to protest the ongoing security crisis. The association of petroleum-product drivers have been on strike off and on for several weeks, and last week launched a work stoppage that also affected deliveries.

“In addition to the insecurity that prevents their employees from going peacefully to their workstations and the oxygen shortage that paralyzes their services while there is talk of a new wave of coronavirus, these hospitals are seeing a total paralysis of their services to the population for lack of fuel,” the association of private hospitals said in a statement.

In Haiti, the national electricity grid is unreliable, electricity flickers on and off and is scarce in many areas across the country. Most hospitals rely on fuel-powered generators to keep patients alive. UNCEF noted that as a temporary solution it secured a contract with a local provider to supply hospitals in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince with 10,000 gallons of fuel. But due to insecurity, the provider eventually declared he could not transport fuel either in the capital or in other provinces, including southwestern Haiti, where 12,200 people still need care after being injured during the August earthquake.

“With the insecurity prevailing in Port-au-Prince, the lives of many child-bearing women and newborn babies are in danger because hospitals that should give them life-saving care cannot operate normally due lack of fuel. They risk dying if health services cannot give them adequate care,” said Raoul de Torcy, UNICEF deputy representative.

Power outages and fuel shortages are not uncommon in Haiti, where contract disputes over broken turbines, workers’ strikes at the state-run Electricité d’Haïti, EDH, late payments to foreign suppliers and a lack of storage capacity has led to a string of energy-related crises over the past two years. Entire neighborhoods have been plunged into darkness for over a week and companies have had to temporarily shut down due to the lack of fuel.

Haiti’s lucrative fuel import market is a $700 million to $900 million business, and petroleum imports are handled not by the private sector but by the government through its controversial monopoly importer, the Bureau of Monetization of Programs and Development Aid, otherwise known as BMPAD. The agency has been accused of mismanaging the government’s energy contracts for years, and a trail of unpaid bills and disputes has left it shopping for suppliers, who are not always consistent in deliveries.

One ongoing dispute involves fuel supplier Preble-Rish Haiti S.A., which scored a victory in the New York State Supreme Court against BMPAD when a judge denied BMPAD’s motion to stop an arbitration that Preble-RIsh started. The judge ordered the arbitration to continue immediately. The fuel supplier began the arbitration in October 2020 after alleging that BMPAD had seized a shipment of gasoline in Port-au-Prince without paying for it. BMPAD also failed to pay for subsequent deliveries of fuel that the supplier said it purchased at BMPAD’s request. The contracts between Preble-Rish and BMPAD require that all disputes between the parties be resolved by arbitration in New York.

President Jovenel Moïse, who had openly declared war on the country’s private power providers, had promised to provide electricity 24-7, and his widow, Martine Moïse, has said that it’s among the reasons he was assassinated in July. However, despite those promises to reform the country’s energy sector, Haitians continued to suffer from chronic blackouts, the latest of which is being caused by late fuel deliveries and the growing prowess and brazenness of armed gangs.

Over the past several weeks, criminal armed gangs have kidnapped drivers of fuel trucks and hijacked vehicles transporting fuel while others have blocked the exit to the seaport. The threat from gangs led to drivers embarking on a strike last week, and angry motorcyclists locking down the capital on Thursday with fiery barricades.

A new strike, operation “fèmen peyi” (close the country) announced for Monday has raised concerns among local foreign diplomats who met with interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry about the crisis but appear to have failed to avert Monday’s work stoppage. The U.S. Embassy is warning American citizens to avoid all unnecessary travel and remain vigilant as the situation continues to be highly unpredictable.

In its note, the embassy also continued to warn Americans that kidnapping in Haiti is widespread.

The 17 missionaries who were abducted at gunpoint 10 days ago in La Tremblay in Ganthier while returning from visiting an orphanage east of the capital, remain captive.

The gang, 400 Mawozo, has asked for $17 million, or $1 million per person, to release the hostages, who include five children, the youngest of whom is eight months old. The missionaries are aid workers with Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries.

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