Escalation in Haiti: Reaching Women and Girls Impacted by Humanitarian Crisis

Available Downloads

This transcript is from a CSIS event hosted on June 25, 2024. Watch the full video here.

Michelle Strucke: Good morning and welcome to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. My name is Michelle Strucke. I’m the Khosravi chair in principled internationalism, the director of the CSIS Humanitarian Agenda, and the director of the Human Rights Program. It is my distinct pleasure to bring to you this morning a discussion entitled Escalation in Haiti: Reaching Women and Girls Impacted by Humanitarian Crisis.

Today I have with me a distinguished panel of experts who are working on the ground in Haiti and in nonprofit organizations in the response in order to deal with an escalating crisis which has not gotten enough attention on the world stage. Haitians have been left to cope with intensifying levels of violence, acute food and water scarcity, and displacement since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021. And in 2024, the number of Haitians that are requiring urgent humanitarian assistance has risen to nearly half the population.

Women and girls are no strangers to the abuses of militias that have been harming them. There’s been a 49 percent increase in gender-based violence, and 63 percent have experienced forced displacement. This crisis, as it’s escalating now, has seen attention as a multinational peacekeeping force will be deployed, and has started to be deployed in Haiti, and as international organizations cope with a difficult response. So today, we will be discussing the situation, especially related to the situation of women and girls, and the humanitarian crisis. So, I’m pleased to introduce our panelists.

I have here with me in the studio today Janti Soeripto, who is the president and CEO of Save the Children. She assumed this role in January 2020, after serving as president and chief operating officer since May 2019. And in this position, she had oversight for setting agency strategy, ensuring all parts of the organization were well-managed and operated as effectively as possible. Prior to joining Save the Children, she worked for eight years as deputy CEO of Save the Children International, where she was responsible for market growth and development, global strategy development, and communications and partnerships. And she comes to us before that with twenty years in the corporate sector, at companies including Kimberly Clark and Unilever.

Next to Jen – next to Janti, I have Jennifer Link, who is the Haiti mission director at the U.S. Agency for International Development. We’re so pleased to have you here and happen to be visiting the U.S. right now. She has served as the Haiti mission director since October 2022, and most recently served as a senior development advisor in the U.S. Embassy to Yemen, resident in Riyadh. In this leadership role, she oversaw assistance efforts to secure stability and economic recovery for Yemen and strengthen the ability of Yemeni systems and institutions to meet Yemeni citizen needs, help manage conflict, and build a foundation for sustainable peace. And previously, she served as the deputy director for the Syria Transition Assistance Response Team, START, a U.S. government multiagency team which provides assistance to Syrians in Turkey and Syria. Prior to that she had many distinguished roles, including deputy mission director for the newly reopened USAID Myanmar and she led several USAID democracy and governance programs. Before that, she worked as an assistant attorney general for the state of Illinois, and many other distinguished positions.

Joining us from Port-au-Prince we have Alexandre Giacullo Lopes, who is the protection cluster coordinator at the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. He has over a decade of experience in international organizations, focusing on refugee protection, humanitarian emergencies, and international human rights law. And he currently serves as the protection cluster coordinator under the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Haiti. So, his role is to coordinate human rights humanitarian protection response among over forty NGOs, U.N. agencies, and government institutions. Before that, he held roles at UNHCR in Guyana and Brazil. And he specifically supported the displacement of – support to the displacement of Venezuelans in South America.

Also joining us from Port-au-Prince today is Johnson Bien-Aime, who is the country director for Haiti for Plan International. He’s an astute business manager with 36 years of experience working in humanitarian and development aid with profound technical expertise in grassroots and enterprise development, capacity building of local civil society organizations, as well as centralized and decentralized government partners. He currently works as the West and Central Africa roving country director, after more than 18 years as the country director in Haiti and West and Central Africa. And he also has had previous roles in finance and administration and with other INGOs.

So, with this, you can see we have a full slate of experts who are here to talk about this escalating situation and what, as a D.C. audience, we can make of this situation. So, I will begin to ask our distinguished panelists, beginning with Johnson from Plan International, to talk to us a little bit about some of the main challenges that they are seeing in terms of humanitarian access on the ground. What kinds of strategies have been employed by aid workers? And, really, what picture are you seeing right now in regards to humanitarian access, and particularly gender? And, Johnson, I’ll just ask you to unmute yourself.

Jennifer Link: Johnson looks like he’s frozen.

Ms. Struke: I think so. Maybe frozen. Johnson, since your feed is frozen, I will start instead with Alexandre, and then we’ll come to you next. So, Alexandre, really the same question. I’m just curious to hear your perspective on humanitarian access and gender, from what you’re seeing right now.

Alexandre Giacullo Lopes: Good morning, everyone. Thank you, Michelle. Thank you for the CSIS for this invitation to talk here today about humanitarian access affecting particularly women and girls. I think that when we talk about humanitarian access in Haiti, we cannot talk about humanitarian access without speaking firstly about the current – the overall security situation in the country. Because when we look at the crisis in Haiti right now, I used to say that this is primarily a protection crisis. So, a lot of the problems that we see in the country right now, such as food insecurity, such as water scarcity, for instance, nutrition, malnutrition, these are connected to some extent, directly or indirectly, to the violence – to high levels of violence that we have in the country.

And starting to answer your question already, I think this is primarily one of the main challenges that we face in Haiti right now when we speak about humanitarian access. We see the high numbers of internally displaced people growing more and more in the country. And of course, this also makes it harder to provide access to access this population that are being displaced.

In many areas, in many specific locations, these are population that are already having very hinted access to services. And they are still having to receive an increasing number of internally displaced people in the country. We have just recently numbers published by IOM showing that in specific areas of the country, such as in the south, displacement has increased more than 130 percent in some specific departments in the past two months.

So of course, I think that the challenges are more related to the violence – to the gang violence that poses restrictions of movements to the population. But not only to the population, to the humanitarian actors as well. And of course, we have to find other alternatives and other ways to continue working and still delivering assistance in working with the population to ensure that a minimum access to services is provided.

So just to mention some examples of what we have been doing as protection cluster, coordinating with protection actors in the country in order to ensure humanitarian access and to overcome these challenges, particularly this year where we have seen an increase in the violence. I think that it’s very hard to talk about humanitarian access without talking about communities. And communities has been key.

Community-based organizations have been key to ensure a community-led response to these challenges in moments where access – and here I speak access by humanitarian actors to the population, but also the population having access to services. When these are compromised, we need to work with these communities to strengthen their capacity, to strengthen their resilience to respond to the crisis.

So, with the protection cluster, we have been working since December last year with community-based organizations to strengthen their capacity and protection, to respond to their protection needs more independently. Just to mention some specific – some very concrete examples, we have delivered trainings to grassroot, community-based organizations on protection issues.

And one of them was specifically to women-led organizations in the department of Artibonite, precisely for them to map and identify in their areas in their neighborhoods, to help them identify and map in their areas what are the main threats but also what are the main available solutions for them to respond to their needs, to work with the communities.

So, I think that, yes, there are many challenges to – for when we speak about access – humanitarian access in the country, but also this opens a window of opportunity for us to find alternative ways to work differently. And sometimes ways that could, in the long term, even a more positive impact for those communities being affected by violence, and not having access to services.

So, after these specific workshops, we have been trying to organize with these organizations through mappings, through more capacity building, this work that has been done with these communities in a more organized way. So, working group on community-based protection was recently created in Haiti precisely to help these organizations developing a work plan for community-led initiatives. And this has been done through the protection cluster, where more than 40 organizations are working together to coordinate the response and to try to overcome these challenges.

So, I think, of course, it’s a very complex situation. So, this is just an overview. And I think I would be happy to discuss a bit more in details the specificities of this response. Thank you.

Ms. Struke: Thank you so much. And thank you for sharing the strategies that you’re using, especially the community-led strategies, to be able to get after such a wide problem. I just want to note that, you know, UNFPA has said there’s been a 50 percent increase in sexual violence in Haiti just between 2022 and ’23 and that 80 percent of women and girls reported being subjected to some form of gender-based violence. That is an incredible scale that you’re dealing with for protection. So, I want to thank you for that. And I think it would be interesting to hear later as well how you’re – how you are responding to the increased displacement, and how you’re also thinking about that scale, given the problem.

Johnson, I’d love to turn to you. Looks that we have your feed back. And would love to hear your thoughts from on the ground of what the humanitarian access situation looks like and kind of any observations that you wanted to share about how the – how the situation is impacting women and girls.

We may have lost your feed again. So, I will pause then and go into the room, and we will come back to hopefully get you back online again. Thanks for your patience.

So, I will move to Jennifer. From USAID we know that Haiti is not only the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but is also the second-largest recipient of U.S. aid in the region, after Colombia. So, a really important partner country with a long history of engagement. It would be really interesting to hear more about what USAID is doing, and also just how you’re experiencing the situation right now

Ms. Link: OK. Thank you. Good morning and thank you for having me here and to join these distinguished guests. I will just mention that I think everybody can see that one of the issues in Haiti is really basic services. You know, internet doesn’t work without electricity. Without electricity, there’s issues with clean water and things. So, I think this just highlights some of the struggles that Haitian people have on a daily basis to operate and to get assistance. So, I think we can all see all that. But it’s still – it’s a pleasure to be here today. I’m glad I happened to be in Washington at the time of this important discussion.

Across our portfolio of activities, I would say that we recognize that gender equality and girls’ empowerment is fundamental to achieving human rights, but also to achieving any kind of sustainable development outcomes. You know, my co-panelists have already spoken some to the challenges, and I look forward to hearing Johnson Bien-Aime’s, you know, contributions as well. I would say, since my arrival in 2022 we really see the impact that organized criminal – you know, criminal organized gangs, organized criminal groups have had on the situation in Haiti. Everything from, you know, impacting basic services, but especially their use of gender-based violence against men and women, girls and boys, as weapons of war to terrorize the population.

I think, you know, many people in the room can tell you that during hard – during conflict times, women and girls are generally the most affected. The current situation in Haiti affects them disproportionately on many levels. Many women are unable to continue their livelihoods or maintain economic activities. Oftentimes, girls are unable to go to school. Then you have the – you know, the problems with internally displaced persons, the real difficulties for them accessing any kind of services due to the armed conflict.

You know, the latest numbers that we have from the U.N. is that, you know, as was mentioned, is that 5.5 million Haitians are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance. More than 3 million of those are children. And the IOM has noted most recently that there are upwards of 576,000 people who are displaced in Haiti right now. So access to health care is very difficult for women and girls, because of, you know, either access to physically getting there, as gangs control roads, but also as they sometimes destroy or loot health facilities, for the – you know, for either their own use or for – just to – you know, to terrorize people. So that gives limited access to that, limited access to legal care.

We are hopeful, though, that the formation of a transitional government, combined with the joint efforts of the Haitian National Police, the multinational security support mission, will significantly contribute to the restoration of stability and the access to public services, especially and including access for women and girls. USAID Haiti does, to your question, support quite a wide range of activities that help address the needs of women and girls.

I won’t go into all of them because it’s a rather large portfolio, but I will just highlight some of them. And I will note, from the outset, that it’s – that it’s, you know, a full range of what women and girls need. Everything from, you know, the prevention of gender-based violence, to treatment, to psychosocial care, to economic empowerment, strengthening women’s organizations, and emergency responses. So even an organization the size of USAID can’t hit all of those things.

So, some of the things that we do is we do support, in conjunction with the government, nonprofits and a number of organizations. We do support 170 health clinics that provide treatment overall to women and children. But we have woven into that health and psychosocial support for victims of gender-based violence. We also work a lot with the population with HIV. Especially you see challenges for women and girls aged 10 to 24. You know, even if there weren’t gangs, there are structural issues that make it difficult to get health care when you been a victim of GVB. For instance, minors needing the consent of their parents to get health treatment, which I think a lot of countries struggle with, including Haiti.

We also work with civil society, because there’s quite a large advocacy in addition to service components. We work with one of the largest networks of women’s organizations that includes more than 742 women’s organizations with 230,000 members. So, we work with them to build their capacity for advocacy. And we work primarily – it’s kind of an unusual civil society program in USAID, in that we work directly on the internal governance structures of the organizations to help them better – to better do their roles, whereas we usually work more in project systems.

We do work with quite a few projects in the water sector. Not just helping women and girls get access to water, but capacitating women to be professionals in the water sector – you know, employees of water utilities. So, we have – of course, do some surveys, which sounds a little boring but actually is super important to identify things like 67 percent of small and medium enterprises are women owned, and yet women – only 10 percent of women have access to credit. So, we do try to work a lot in the economic sector to not only build the capacity of women to bring them into market sector systems, but also to help them get access to credit.

And then we were discussing just before we began about humanitarian assistance, and just how much that has grown from ’22 to ’24. And so, we have, like many other donors and nonprofit organizations, grown our humanitarian portfolio quite a lot over the last two years to increase not just food security, but medical systems, psychosocial support. When you have this level of violence, you always have increased protection issues, in particular. And so, to focus a lot more on protection issues, especially as we have a multinational police force come in.

So that’s kind of broad brush what we’re doing going forward. We will be, you know, doing program work in conjunction – in parallel, I should say – with the multinational force on more community-level activities, I think, and more protection issues, as I think other people are focusing as well.

Ms. Struke: Thank you so much. It’s really especially inspiring to hear about how large that network of women-led organizations are, and then how you’re also having such a thoughtful approach of getting at the root causes of why maybe some of those small- and medium-sized enterprises wouldn’t be able to scale, to have women be the changemakers that we know they are. Obviously, any time we do an event that’s humanitarian that talks about, you know, the effects on women and girls, we run the risk of sounding like we think women are all victims. And certainly, they’re more disproportionately affected, as you mentioned, but they’re changemakers, and they’re business leaders, and they are – you know, can be more and more represented in political processes.

One note for our listeners is that only one of the transitional people that was elected to the new transitional Cabinet is a woman. And that’s – you know, it’s notable that there’s one. It’s more notable than many other countries around the world right now, where there are, you know, peace negotiations and other things happening that have no women involved. But one is – really falls short of, I think, what the aspiration is for gender equality. So, thank you. This is really helpful to hear the comprehensive types of approaches you’re taking and to reflect on, you know how kind of big that program of work is.

So, I’ll turn – Johnson, I will try one more time. I think with video off, if you want to try with just audio perhaps, we could see if we could get your voice in. Would certainly love to hear more about what Plan International is seeing on the ground. So, I’ll just pause and try again.

Johnson Bien-Aime:

 Thank you very much. Can you hear me now? Hello?

Ms. Struke: Oh, now we can hear you. Great. Go ahead.

Mr. Bien-Aime: OK, perfect. I’ve been struggling with the connection

Ms. Struke: So sorry. But please, we can hear you.

Mr. Bien-Aime: We – Plan International – we are very, very, very concerned. And I think Alexandre has presented a strong picture. But I will add to it our concern on child protections, where maturity of the youth and children with armed forces being used up front. And there, we cannot sleep. And we don’t understand why that there is no more concrete actions to protect childrens and youth. More of them, they are the one up front being used by armed groups. By that, we provide a lot of psychological support, and as well as we create children’s friendly space where we help them to understand, and as well as to breathe a little bit, with all of those pressures.

So far in our communities, we supported more than 30 community-based child protections committees that provide support and accompany the kids, especially go back to school wherever it’s possible. As you know, more than 900 schools in Haiti are closed. We address, as well, food security issues. Don’t forget, more than half of the populations is in acute food insecurity situations. We supported and interface more than 10,000 individuals. Our team on it was left a little bit alone. We intervened there, together with UNICEF, to support about 3,000 individuals with food security, as well as, more importantly, providing them some cash to access, and as well as to meet their basic needs.

Protections remain, as Alexandre mentioned a while ago, a key element for us for humanitarian sector to address and to support. Access to communities is invaluable. In Port-au-Prince especially we get people helping us to access, but the price for those people to access communities is triple than we can imagine. So, situation is escalating. And gender-based violence is something that we really need to continue addressing. And our call to actions today is, one, to immediately do wherever we can stop violence and discriminated attacks from armed groups that put civilians at risk of increased suffering. Plan International as well, our priority to protect childrens and other people, and in particular, internally displaced.

Among the internally displaced, you can imagine, you get more than 310,000 women, and including 108,000 childrens. So, it is a concern. We applaud and we expect the support of the U.N. coming up. And we expect and hope that that deployment will take into account the protections of childrens and as well as help them to know how to treat gender-based violence while they’re coming into the country. We will continue – Plan International will continue and committed to stay with the Haitian populations until we get a further solutions to access, to continue supporting the communities, and as well as to protect childrens, particularly girls.

And making sure that education is back underway, because schools are still closed. And this is inacceptable. And we hope – we hope – we do hope, with the deployment of military forces, we will bear on opening access, and so, humanitarian, we can access communities and we can provide basic support, wash, educations, mainly protections, including psychological support to children and girls affected by this crisis. Thank you.

Ms. Struke: Thank you so much. And thank you for pointing out those issues that are specific to children, especially this closure of schools, and then highlighting the interconnected nature of so many of these challenges that are all exacerbated by the lack of humanitarian access. I really appreciate that.

So, I’ll move to Janti. In your perch as CEO of Save the Children, you have such an incredible, I think, viewpoint into not just the situation on the ground that your teams are facing, but also the bigger picture too of what the international community is kind of thinking about this, and your role in the IASC. So, I’d love to hear from you your thoughts, opening comments, and ask you some questions.

Janti Soeripto: Sure. Very happy to be here. Thank you for also, you know, keeping Haiti on the radar, so to speak.

Look, maybe a couple of things on access, and then a couple of thoughts on, you know, how the international community could do – continue to do more in support. I mean, look, my fellow panelists have said it. Yes, access is difficult. Having said that, though, I think our team in Haiti would say – and, look, we’ve been there since 1978. I’m sure with our colleagues here on the line, you know, equally long for decades. Seventy percent of – 70 percent of the children in Haiti live outside of Port-au-Prince. So, yes, access in Port-au-Prince is particularly difficult, unsafe, insecure, unpredictable. But access outside of Port-au-Prince is significantly – I won’t say, well, easier – you know, more predictable, easier to secure.

So, the vast majority of our work is in the south. We do some in the north, and we do some cash transfer programming in Port-au-Prince. And I would make a point about, you know, potentially more cash is needed, as a percentage of the overall intervention, because I do think Haiti is still a country where stimulation of local markets, economic empowerment, dignity and choice, all those things that are good about the cash intervention that we know to be true, I think we should – all organizations working there should think about how they can do it. And we do that actually with amazing local partners on the ground who have access and trust of the local community, particularly in areas where we haven’t worked perhaps for decades.

So, I would say, yes, it is hard, but access is absolutely possible. I think people – I don’t want people to think – to despair about Haiti, to say nothing is possible, you know, why would we – because it worries me that only 77 percent of the HRP, the Humanitarian Response Plan, is currently funded. Now, Haiti is not alone in being underfunded in crisis the world over, but it is – you know, 25 percent funded is really at the low end of the – of the scale. So that is a concern. And part of that may be because people think it is very difficult to get stuff done. And I would say it is possible to get stuff done.

Haiti is one of our country programs that doesn’t seem to have an issue to spend the money on time in full, notwithstanding that, yes, once in a while we have to evacuate. Once in a while you have to stop work. Yes, once in a while you have to – you have to be very clear about your safety and security protocols. You have to invest behind those things. And donors need to understand that that is part of the deal. It is not a risk-free environment, for sure. But it is possible to get stuff done. As I said, it is – I totally agree with Alexandre, it is a protection crisis. You know, as always, when there’s lots of armed groups, it’s, by and large, a protection crisis. And there’s lots of SGBV, which largely goes underreported, as always. So that is a concern.

I would say, one of the things that really struck me – and so it’s cash, maintaining education, child-friendly spaces, protection. One of the things that really struck me about Haiti was when our team told me that, I think – these are UNICEF numbers. You can hold me to them. But 30 to 50 percent of the armed gangs are children. And that is an extraordinary number, right? So almost half of armed gangs are children. And that often starts at a very, very young age. We’re talking seven- to eight-year-olds, like, children who are, you know, included in gangs, they get a meal, they get security, they get safety. So, you understand why that in some cases can be the – that seems like the best option on the table.

So, these children are in gangs, sometimes for years. Now, all of the risks that comes along with that, including, of course, mental health, trauma, physical abuse, all of that. So that is something for us to think about, particularly when we now see the MSF – so, the multinational security forces come into play. So, on that, maybe a couple of things that give me hope. I do think what should give us hope is that there is now a transitional government in place. Our country director said – and she’s been there for many, many years, and she’s not a woman of hyperbole – she said it’s the first time in a long time that I’ve been hopeful about the long-term options for Haiti.

That doesn’t mean that we expect peace and stability to descend overnight, but there is hope. I agree with you, it would be good if there were more women in the Cabinet. But one is better than none. (Laughter.) So, we need to work with that. But we do think there is a real opportunity to work with this government and support them in order to get some of those basic services, and access, and security in place. I think there is real resilient, strong civil society. Yes, we can always – we should all try to help strengthen it. But there is strong civil society in Haiti, stronger than in a lot of other countries where we work. So, we should really try to cede power, influence, funding to those local partners. So that would be my second point.

And then on the protection issues, whilst – and I think I would point out that it is not a military force. It’s a police force. It’s under the national police force, which I think is good. Where we’re concerned, or where we certainly would highlight the need, is to make sure that that force is not just trained on safeguarding and child protection issues, but that there are also real experts deployed within that force. And that – and it was part of the U.N. resolution. As far as we know, it hasn’t been activated. We would certainly ask the MSF and MSS, as well as the U.S. government, as well as the Haitian government, to make sure that there’s adequate resourcing available for protection and safeguarding issues within that MSF.

Because when you think about it, on the ground that MSS is going to – well, they started today – they are going to come up to children. If part of their remit is to make sure – is to take on the gangs, they will take on children. So, what is going to happen to those kids? Where is the procedural piece, whether it’s juvenile justice, whether it’s mental health and psychosocial support, whether it’s reintegration of these children into their families or extended families. You know, things that happen in other conflict areas, Save the Children has certainly worked with children coming out of armed groups all across some of the world’s worst conflicts, from South Sudan to DRC to Syria.

But I think here, because it’s such a large number of children, that’s something we really have to – I mean, I can’t stress enough how important that is in our view. And sometimes I feel that people just think child – you know, child safeguarding and child protection, is a yeah, yeah, yeah, we all agree intellectually. But then the actual implementation of what we have learned from peacekeeping forces is

not necessarily always happening. So that would be, you know, partly hope, because things are looking better than they did certainly a few months ago, but on the other side also caution to make sure that we don’t let this moment slip away.

Ms. Struke: Thank you. Those are extremely important characterizations. And it really, I think, you know, makes us think about what the future looks like for Haitians that are – you know, I was thinking about the moment of transition, a transitional government that has this opportunity to try to build something better for Haitians. And thinking about 30 to 50 percent of young children that are involved in gangs themselves and will be in contact with the multinational security police forces. That’s a – that’s a very striking note.

It’s especially striking considering that protection tends to be one of the least-funded areas of humanitarian response generally, and that, as you mentioned, the Humanitarian Response Plan is underfunded. I think there is some hope, perhaps, from the fact that the U.S. Congress had a national security supplemental. Some of which I know Ambassador Power – Administrator Samantha Power mentioned would go to countries like Haiti. So that’s some hope that there is that additional funding. But it’s certainly not enough. And the U.S. is not the only – the only donor in the world, though the U.S. is the largest humanitarian donor in the world.

I think that, you know, you mentioned that the characterization of where children and displacement are, you know, outside Port-au-Prince was significant, and that access is not hopeless. I wanted to highlight that message as well. That’s a really important thing for people to understand. And so, there’s sort of two elements I think it could be interesting to talk about. One is sort of thinking about in the – in the escalating situation in Port-au-Prince, what really is needed there now, considering that armed groups – I think the number was something like had taken over 80 percent of Port-au-Prince. So, like, a very startling escalation there. How is it different than the rest of the country? And sort of what is needed in order to specifically meet the needs of displaced Haitians?

So, I’ll start with that question. And then I’ll move to another kind of U.S. government-centered question about GFA, to ask you a little bit about what the Global Fragility Act selection of Haiti might mean for some hope and coordinated U.S. government efforts. So, I’ll start with the first question on Port-au-Prince and kind of how is that different from the rest of the country, and how we’re reaching displaced people.

So, I’m not sure who wants to start with that question, but I’ll look at either Alexandre or Johnson to see if you want to. So, Alexandre, you nodded, so I’ll call on you. (Laughter.)

Mr. Giacullo Lopes: Sure. (Laughs.) No, definitely. I think this is a – this is a topic that is directly connected to protection and because, as colleagues mentioned, and particularly the colleague from Save the Children, the situation in the Port-au-Prince area, it’s more critical when it comes to insecurity. For sure, you correctly mentioned that 80 percent of the territory is controlled by armed gangs in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince. And these are actually numbers that were last updated before the situation deteriorated in March and April. So we don’t have more recent numbers, but it seems like these actually can be even higher after an increase in attacks by gangs since late February, early March.

Yes, the situation, it seems to be a bit calmer now in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince with the upcoming arrival of the mission today. And, of course, I think humanitarian actors, human rights organizations, the U.N., we all expect that this mission, it will bring some stability to Haiti in general, but particularly the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince, so where the security situation is more dire. But I think it’s important to mention, yes, that access to services in other areas of the country might be not as impacted as in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince, but at the same time it’s important to understand how restrictions of movement

roads in the country, impact the distribution of basic articles or humanitarian assistance, impact the economy as well.

And as a consequence, increasing levels of food insecurity, malnutrition, and generating other problems in other areas of the country as well, due to the lack of supply of basic goods in some of this specific area, and more particularly in the south. The U.N. human rights organization recently, in last October, published, however, a report highlighting how the violence has been spread into other areas in the country, and particularly in the lower Artibonite region. And this has impacted particularly rural areas, agriculture, and farmers that have been – joined this group of displaced people, have been displaced. Therefore, again, impacting food security, impacting, again, food production.

More recently, I think it was last week, there was a case in the Grand’Anse department where 11 people were killed in a conflict with gangs. So, we see some dynamics expanding to some specific areas of the country. It’s hard to say, but, of course, there are some fears of concerns that with an arrival of the multinational mission to Haiti, and particularly acting in Port-au-Prince, this could impact or generate some expansion of the activities to other areas of the country. So, I think this is something that perhaps it’s important to take into account as well. But of course, as all panelists mentioned, we see hope with this mission arrive to first bring some stability together, along with a new transitional government that will bring, along with the security stability, the political stability as well that will allow for improvements in security and in the protection situation in the country.

That said, I think that many colleagues, many panelists mentioned the protection response in Haiti is underfunded, and is even more underfunded than the Humanitarian Response Plan. We have donors such as the U.S. government, such as the USAID colleague mentioned, that had been supporting and prioritizing protection and a protection response. But we need more donors. We need more government supporting and increasing the protection response in Haiti. The protection cluster recently conducted a mapping in some sites of internally displaced people in Haiti. And out of 97 sites, we identified that only 15 had a frequent constant in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince, or protection partners present delivering a direct individual case management response, a protection response to individual cases, to people in need of protection, and mental health and psychosocial support to survivors as well.

So, the protection cluster, under the coordination of OHCHR, has been advocating for more funds for partners to strengthen not only the humanitarian assistance with food distribution, with water distribution, which is crucial, but also with core protection, case management response to people in need, to victims of violence. And we recently, as a protection cluster, as part of our advocacy efforts, have published an advocacy note about the protection situation of internally displaced people in Haiti, that we invite participants and the public to take a look at it. But, yeah, so the situation in the other departments, in other areas, are relatively safer and better. But I think it’s important that we keep in mind how the protection crisis, the insecurity, affect the whole country as a role in other aspects, such as the economic aspects of it. Over. Thank you.

Ms. Strucke: Thank you so much. And the note about how the potential kind of human movement spillover of IDPs, once things potentially calm down, it, I think, is an important caution, especially if organizations like Save the Children have better access in places outside, to understand that there could be that increased risk happening. Johnson, did you want to comment on – specifically, on the internally displaced persons, or the differences in where you sit in Port-au-Prince versus other parts of Plan’s work around the country?

Mr. Bien-Aime: Yes, just wanted to add, we work – we in Plan International, we work effectively out of Port-au-Prince, without problem. Northeast, southeast, even in Artibonite. The issue there is everything is concentrated in Port-au-Prince, including supplies. The main supplies to get to those communities in the other regions, mainly needs to come from Port-au-Prince. And you understand when we cannot access, even we cannot provide and send those supplies to the different regions and communities.

Now, when we talk about the importance to clear up and make sure we have access in Port-au-Prince, it’s not necessarily for Port-au-Prince. It is really to support the other regions, because what we need – what they need, it is in Port-au-Prince. Whatever administration and paperwork usually depends on Port-au-Prince. And it is not without reason, strategically, the armed groups struggle and keep Port-au-Prince as a reference. So, we believe by getting access and acting on armed group in Port-au-Prince, that will, as well, impact and release supplies, potential opportunities for the other regions.

Essentially, in Port-au-Prince, I think we mentioned that several times, dealing with childrens that are being used upfront by armed groups will be a key element for us in the humanitarian sector to provide support and be ready to assist. And families in Port-au-Prince,, like we get our staff here, there is a big difference in stress from the staff and family in Port-au-Prince, comparing to other regions. In the other region, the staff feel way comfortable to work, and work overtime without problem. But in Port-au-Prince, we have to close offices by 3:00, by 2:00, or maximum 3:30, so colleagues can access their home at a reasonable time.

So means the concentrations of issues in Port-au-Prince, the way that impact the rest of the country, it is – it is essential. It is very important. Yes, I agreed. We are functioning and working in the rest of the regions. In Port-au-Prince, we are working. We are supporting couple of centers with gender-based violence issues, protections issues. But that’s not enough. It’s not enough, when we cannot access. It’s not enough when at any time, at any given moment, armed groups can interfere and threaten the life of those supporting the centers and the children. So that’s the way we look at Port-au-Prince.

But we still standing strong. We still working and supporting our offices from Port-au-Prince. We are not – we are not leaving the battle. We will stand. We will stay still. Hopefully, the deployment military will provide that support we need to open access in Port-au-Prince so other regions can get the supplies needed, and especially Dominican Republic closed the door. We cannot access supplies from the Dominican Republic. That was an alternative for the northeast and for the center. Now it’s no – it’s no longer possible. It’s done, but very difficultly.

And as a matter of fact, someone with a Haitian passport cannot access Dominican Republic today. And I think it is a call for the government of Dominican Republic really to open their eyes. If they really want to support that situation in Haiti, is to stop that process of not providing access and supporting Haitian humanitarian organizations to access and to support. Because once we cannot access Port-au-Prince, the alternative was Dominican Republic. Now it’s closed.

We are getting it very tight, very difficult. And I hope – as our colleague said, we have hope. And we believe that things will get better. And we hope the fundings will accompany as well, especially for the protections area, and especially for all those childrens being upfront used. We will need in a very near future to strongly provide that psychologic support, provide that literacy support to guide and support those childrens, particularly the girls that are impacted by the armed groups in Port-au-Prince.

Ms. Strucke: Thank you so much.

Mr. Bien-Aime: Thank you.

Ms. Strucke: Yes, thank you. Really interesting points about the reliance on Port-au-Prince, and the impacts on children, and then the specific ways that the stress that your staff are under – I think that – I know that a lot of humanitarian organizations, you express so much resilience, but at the same time do experience, you know, all the stresses of the population that are occurring. Especially because I know a lot of you have a lot of local staff that have local families as well, that are in the midst of it.

I wanted to turn in our last few minutes a little bit on some policy issues. In particular, it’d be great to hear a little bit about the Global Fragility Act. Global Fragility Act chose Haiti as one of the pilot countries. And it’s, you know, an effort by the U.S. government to bring together, you know, many different parts of the U.S. government to address, in a long-term, coordinated manner, fragility in places such as Haiti. So it’d be interesting to hear from your perspective how it’s going, and kind of how the escalation of violence is potentially impacting the implementation of the Global Fragility Act.

Ms. Link: I would have loved for the Global Fragility Act to roll out at a time where we could have focused on economic development as a way to stabilize the country. However, I think that everyone could see the direction that Haiti was going. We never want to say, you know, that it can’t get worse, because in Haiti over the last two years I think we’ve seen that it can get worse. So the Global Fragility Act in respect to Haiti is largely designed – the strategy is largely designed to address these issues of widespread violence and insecurity in the country. So it’s pretty much set up as an interagency.

So, you know, of course, like, international narcotics and law enforcement work with the police. The DOD is there in some role – because we don’t have mil-mil relations with Haiti. But from the USAID side, it really does look at those things that – those structural issues that feed into the problems. So, I mean, I will – I will echo some of the other speakers, in that quite a large part of our portfolio is outside of Port-au-Prince. And so it is important to remember that there’s a lot going on. And so, you know, there is – there is ginormous needs. And we don’t want our funders to go away, because there is a lot going on. But the Global Fragility Act is more focused on Port-au-Prince because of the large – just the predominance of violence there.

And so from the USAID side, we’ve borrowed from lessons we’ve seen in other countries, in Latin America, in the Middle East. And so programs are – take a lot of the look at the community engagement level, getting the community engaged in solving their problems. It does also look at building bridges between police and the communities, because that’s necessary when you have so much instability. But also, you know, there are these long-term issues that, even absent the violence, that you would have that create challenges for women and girls. Like the – you know, the weaknesses of services, the weaknesses that you see in the judicial and legal system, the socioeconomic precariousness of women and girls.

And so under the Global Fragility Act, we do have the – you know, the program set up so that as – the as the multinational Force, the MSS, comes in, that we will go into neighborhoods after them and help rebuild the communities, looking at pivoting some of our programs in health, in education to those communities. And also a focus on economic development and income generation. Because, sadly, I did read in one of our NGO partners reports that, you know, 10-year-old children can make more by, you know, running errands for a gang than in a job. So, you know, you need to build that economic resilience for them to pull them away from the gangs.

We are also setting up programs to support the new government in ways that we can, primarily so that they can be transparent and responsive to the population. And then I think one thing that we

have to remember, that we’ve seen from other countries where you’ve had this level of violence, is you don’t just, you know, solve the police problem and all your problems go away. (Laughter.) You’ve had years of violent behavior. Children have grown up without education and without having learned the skills to solve conflict in, you know, productive, non-violent manners. So it can take decades to reverse that level of violence. So lot of institutional work that still needs to be done.

Ms. Strucke: Thank you for highlighting those, especially the kind of generational type impacts. And to me, it implies an investment by a whole variety of different actors. The, you know, human rights office here, and there’s a constellation of human rights organizations that think about transitional justice but, again, are underfunded. It feels like a lot of the greatest needs here are ones that it can be often the hardest to mobilize funding for.

So I think I just want to reiterate to the audience the message of how important it is to recognize the civil society partners, including all of, you know, Save the Children’s partners, Plan’s partners, USAID’s partners, OHCHR’s partners that are – have capability and can do things on the ground effectively, even in spite of these great – in spite of this great violence. But really do need that investment to come through to be able to have the constellation of actors supporting local entities that can do it.

Well, in our last few minutes, you know, I’d love to hear just each of you any closing – if you could have one key message you want to leave the audience with? Especially if it relates to kind of how to really take advantage of any sense of optimism we have right now that you’ve been expressing to think about how policy makers, funders can support your activities on the ground. That would be the – I think, a great message to close on. So I’ll start, again, from those in Haiti, and then I’ll come to the room to close it out. So I’ll start with you, Johnson. If you have one key message. If I can put you on the spot for that. (Laughs.)

Mr. Bien-Aime: Yeah. As we – as we are talking, I just saw the plane of Kenyan Airlines.

Ms. Strucke: Oh, wow.

Mr. Bien-Aime:

 So the military are on the ground. It’s a hope. It’s a positive sign. And we are asking everyone, governments, to stand with that deployment military, to support them, support the police in Haiti, support the government, and help us to access people that are affected, people that are in need. Help us to support those childrens that are being used upfront by the armed groups. We stand – we still stand by. And we believe that there is a positive sign and a positive hope with the plane I just saw, all those militaries on the ground, at Port-au-Prince.

Thank you for the opportunities. Plan International’s staying still. And thank you for the other organizations that we are working all together. And I believe if we provide more funding to the humanitarian sector, especially protections for those kids, for the gender-based violence issues, for the girls affected, it will make a huge difference. Yes, that will take time, but step by step we’ll get back, we hope. And we believe that that will come. Thank you.

Ms. Strucke: Great note to end on. Alexandre.

Mr. Giacullo Lopes:

 Thank you, Michelle. I think, to not repeat the words by Johnson about the importance of protection, my key message here, I think that we are speaking a lot about the importance in having hopes with the arrival of an international mission, which is important, which is crucial. But I think that, based in past experiences, based on what we see in the history of Haiti, I think the key message is about the importance of doing this together with the Haitian people, with Haitian organizations.

And not only working as international actors, but more importantly working to strengthen Haitian institutions, creating political stability so that these hopes and this change that we are experiencing today can last, and can have an impact in the long term as well. So I think the key message here is to work with Haitian organizations and the Haitian people to have an impact in the long term. Thank you for the invitation and for this opportunity.

Ms. Strucke: 

 Thank you so much. I’ll turn to Jennifer.

Ms. Link: I would say that we are optimistic that the establishment of a transitional government can help set the country on a path to peace. Maybe it didn’t happen in a way that any of us would have hoped for, but it happened. And we know that the meaningful integration of women and their ability to play leadership roles in this transition will be essential to sustainability. So I will note that while, you know, we were disappointed there’s only one woman in the Presidential Council, the newly formed interim Cabinet does include four women, such as the ministers of foreign affairs, finance, and planning. So that is, you know, a positive – a positive projection. And I think that conversations like these can help to underscore the importance of ensuring participation, representation, and leadership of women and girls.

Ms. Strucke: 

 Thank you. Important point.

Ms. Link:

 So thank you for the opportunity.

Ms. Strucke: And I must have missaid the council over the Cabinet. And I appreciate the distinction. It’s important.

Ms. Link:

 It’s new. It’s all new.

Ms. Strucke: 

 Of course, all new. And then, Janti, I’d love to hear your kind of key message.

Ms. Soeripto: Look, I think it is time to place more of a development bet on Haiti. There is a new – there’s a transitional government. Yes, it’s early days, but I think – and we can’t expect that to go perfect all the time. So I think a little bit of patience, a little bit of humility about what we expect. And even if things then might go awry, you know, make sure that the international community, you know, gives that – continues to give that support. Because otherwise you’re going to see the seesaw support that’s been there for Haiti for so long, right?

Big disaster happens, huge influx of funding, doesn’t necessarily go to plan. We don’t really build political institutions. We don’t really build Haitian organizations. And then the caravan leaves. And I think we’ve all learned from that. No one wants to be part of that circus anymore, I think. So I would rather have a more consistent, multiyear support commitment from donors than, you know, this sort of one year famine to feast, literally, approach that we’ve seen. And working with actors in the region, I think Johnson was very right to mention DR in terms of supply, but also in terms of access for humanitarian actors and for refugees, I think, is an important one.

I would also say preparedness. The hurricane season is upon us. So helping a new government to respond adequately to humanitarian disasters, if they happen. So, for all of us to be prepared to do that in advance, I think, would be a good one to think about as we head into this – into the coming months. But largely one of, you know, let’s take a bet on this country, and let’s put all of our shoulders against that.

Ms. Strucke: 

 Thank you so much. Such important points. And I’m personally gratified just to hear really the learning from so many years of working in Haiti that’s coming out of each of your statements about protecting and supporting and building institutions, supporting government to help them build up services, working with local actors, and building on localization, and really thinking about, you know, the long-term effort that it shouldn’t be famine or feast. I think those are great points.

Thank you so much today for being here. I think there’s so many other parts of this conversation we could have gotten into, but I’m really grateful to have experts like you working in a place that is quite challenging right now. I wanted to thank as well my team here, Amineh, Jude, and Dea, for helping us put together this event for the CSIS Humanitarian Agenda. I also want to thank CSIS’ broadcasting team. Many people to thank, but in particular Dwayne and Qi, for making sure that this event could run smoothly today.

And I’d like to thank everyone online who tuned in. We’re really grateful to have you support our events. And we hope that you will share these key messages because this is a crisis that while we might see – may see some headlines talking about the multinational security force, we are often, I think, missing a lot of the key points that the experts in this discussion brought up about how the people are impacted and what the future might look like for Haiti. So thank you, again, for supporting the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And with that, I will close us out.