The number of Haitians going hungry amid gang violence is now nearly half of the population

The number of Haitians who can’t find enough food to eat is dangerously on the rise, a new United Nations analysis on Haiti says.

An estimated 4.9 million Haitians, almost half of the country’s estimated 12 million residents, are now experiencing high levels of acute hunger and will be in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, according to a projected analysis from the U.N’s Integrated Food Security Phase Classification.

The new projections are an increase over last September, when an estimated 4.7 million Haitians were going hungry and catastrophic hunger levels would reach about 200,000 people in the population.

The deepening hunger crisis, which includes about 1.8 million Haitians who are in an emergency phase, is being fueled by a lack of rainfall in the country, an inflation rate of 48.5%, a surge in prices linked to the depreciation of the gourde against the U.S. dollar, and escalating gang violence.

Haiti’s spiraling crisis will be discussed by President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a two-day visit scheduled to start Thursday evening in Ottawa.

At least 531 Haitians have been killed since the start of this year in gang-related attacks, the U.N. said this week, and the escalating violence and kidnappings have made areas of the capital and the rice-growing Artibonite Valley inaccessible to residents, police and aide workers.

Haitians are also seeing a reduction in their purchasing power, especially those living in poor households The country’s Consumer Price Index has shown prices rising by as much as 87%.

“It is critical that both lifesaving food assistance keeps reaching the most vulnerable Haitians and resilience and safety-net initiatives continue being prioritized so we can address the root causes of hunger,” said Jean-Martin Bauer, country director for the U.N. World Food Program in Haiti. “We desperately need an increase in funding and political will to be mobilized. The world cannot wait for a big disaster before it acts.”

Despite the gang violence humanitarian aid groups have been increasing food assistance, which the report credited to staving off “catastrophic hunger” for an estimated 200,000 people living in Cité Soleil. The country’s largest slum, it is one of the areas most affected by rising hunger along with the city of Jérémie, which is still recovering from a 2021 earthquake and depends on both rural plantations and food from Port-au-Prince to feed its population..

“While certain areas of the country have seen improvements, the situation in other parts of the country has further deteriorated,” the U.N. report said. “In these areas, humanitarian food assistance was not scaled up despite the worrying projection from the previous analysis.”

Last week, a group of officials from the U.N. and other partners made a two-day visit to Haiti to assess how humanitarian agencies can expand their operations.

The team noted while there has been progress in the response, Haitians’ access to basic services remains severely limited in areas controlled or under the influence of gangs. They stressed, however, that humanitarian operations alone cannot address the underlying causes of Haiti’s security, political and development crisis.

The U.N. is expected to call for nearly $715 million next month to help the people of Haiti.