Haiti needs a strong COVID-19 response to maintain national stability

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UN-Habitat/Julius Mwelu An informal settlement in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The UN integrated office in Haiti (BINUH) and 19 UN agencies there have been working together to support a country in the throes of a pandemic that could challenge the nation’s delicate balance of stability, security and development, the head of the Mission told the Security Council on Friday.

Against the backdrop of longstanding fragility, exacerbated by 18 months of a protracted political, economic, social and institutional crisis, the pandemic is “stretching this country’s already fragile health system and testing its meager social safety net”, Special Representative and head of BINUH, Helen La Lime, said via videoconference (VTC).

Special Representative Helen La Lime

“A country of more than 11 million inhabitants, Haiti currently only has the capacity to treat a few hundred patients at a time”, she continued, also drawing attention to “suboptimal coordination within the State” and “inadequate funding of the national response plan”.

La Lime also maintained that if the public health and socioeconomic dimensions of the pandemic are not addressed urgently, they risk further aggravating the humanitarian and socioeconomic situation, threatening significant human suffering and large population outflows – significantly impacting the whole region.

Stepping up in Haiti

Despite the pandemic, over the past four months, BINUH and the UN country team have been assisting Haitian authorities and institutions in progressing towards stability and sustainable development.

“Along with its partners, it has advised the Haitian National Police in the successful resolution of long-standing labour disputes within its ranks, and it has assisted judicial actors in devising a virtual hearings system that will allow courts to continue functioning despite the current impossibility for them to physically convene”, she told the 15-member body.

Though seemingly small in scope, she believes that these advances have contributed to a cohesive police presence, that maintains order, and a judicial system that is able to guarantee victims’ rights in accessing justice. “Unfortunately”, La Lime acknowledged, “we continue to operate in a context where the upholding of the principle of accountability remains a key challenge”.

Necessary reform

In the throes of the pandemic, a resurgence in gang activity is exacerbating the already volatile situation and compounding the plight of the most vulnerable.

“The past weeks have seen a marked increase in the frequency and intensity of clashes between rival armed gangs that are vying to control greater swathes of territory in the most populous neighborhoods of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, likely in an effort to exert influence on the outcome of elections in those constituencies”, the UN envoy explained.

She upheld that the “vicious circle of mistrust, recrimination, and ultimately violence”, is again starting to define Haitian politics, at a time when the entire society should be unified in responding to the pandemic, and working toward lasting foundations on which to build a successful future for the nation.

It is becoming increasingly evident that Constitutional reform is needed to break the circle and create conditions for institutional stability, good governance and the rule of law, which she called “three essential characteristics for the country to thrive”.

“Such reform can only be successful as a result of a nationally-owned process that combines strong leadership with genuine efforts by all”, she stressed. In closing, the Special Representative said that BINUH will continue to encourage authorities to “amplify the fight against impunity and the promotion of human rights”.

“Through a sound use of the panoply of tools at its disposal, the UN system in Haiti will continue to support the expansion of multiple aspects of the response to COVID-19, accompany the country on the path of crucial institutional and economic reform, and provide assistance to ensure the timely holding of free, fair, and transparent elections, in an appeased climate”, she concluded.

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