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Friday, March 31, 2023

Fuel and Power Crisis Paralysis Haiti

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Haiti has been rocked by heavy fighting between gangs with the global medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) leading to food, water, fuel and power crisis.

“We are calling on all belligerents to allow aid to enter Brooklyn and to spare civilians,” said Mumuza Muhindo, the MSF’s head of mission in Haiti, in a statement referring to the contested area within the sprawling Cité Soleil.

About 20,000 people have fled their homes since May because of gang warfare, according to the UN. On Monday the interim mayor of Cité Soleil said more than 50 people had been killed last weekend and more than 100 wounded.

In addition to their deadly battles in Port-au-Prince, where at least 234 people have been killed or injured in the Cite Soleil neighbourhood since early July, Haitian gangs have also hampered activity at the country’s three main oil terminals.

Armed groups regularly block access to the facilities, halting the flow of fuel into the country.

In Jeremie, a coastal town on the southwestern tip of the island, gas stations have been running low on fuel for months.

Residents are forced to turn to the black market, where gasoline and diesel are readily available — but at prices six times higher than the rate set by the government.

“You can find fuel everywhere, except in the gas stations,” says Yvon Janvier, a law professor.

With little legal fuel available, and soaring black-market prices, Jeremie’s least well-off residents are forced to take their journeys by foot.

The vast majority of energy in Haiti is produced by diesel-burning plants, so “it’s very simple: no fuel, no electricity,” says Janvier.

One paved road

Jose Davilmar, administrative director of the country’s public electricity utility (EDH), says there are “enormous difficulties in transporting fuel to certain provincial towns.”

With little fuel available to cities outside Haiti’s capital, residents are forced to turn to the black market, where prices are six times higher than the official rate set by the government

“Most recently, three boats loaded with fuel could not dock because there were retaliations by bandits in Cite Soleil.”

With control of only two short kilometers (1.2 miles) of national highway in Martissant, a poor suburb of Port-au-Prince, gangs have gained power over the flow of goods to half the country.

Armed groups have had total control over the only paved road leading to Haiti’s southern regions since June 2021.

Reduced hospital service

Without electricity from power plants, entire regions of the country must turn to gas-powered generators to keep the lights on.

Gangs have had total control over the only paved road leading to the south of Haiti since June 2021, leading to significant shipping delays

For those who cannot afford their generator, daily life has become a headache.

In Jacmel, on Haiti’s southern coast, painter Joseph Stevenson must ask among his neighbors to see who has power each time he needs to charge his phone.

“Sometimes I have to go all the way downtown to get just a few percent of a charge,” says the artist.

“Can you imagine that, in the 21st century?”

In Cap-Haitien, Haiti’s second-largest city, bars and restaurants equipped with generators have been able to stay open, but have reduced their hours of operation due to the rising price of gas.

The northern city’s mayor, Patrick Almonor, warns that the power outages have had major impacts on medical facilities.

“Hospitals are working at a slower pace with reduced services because it has been nearly six months since the EDH has provided electricity in the city,” says Almonor.

Prices doubled

In Les Cayes, the third-largest city, some health centres are only open a few hours a day, says doctor Kinsky Hippolyte.

Haiti’s rising poverty rate, compounded by social instability, is a major concern for the humanitarian community

The situation is largely due to the lack of electricity, but also problems transporting equipment and medicine out of the capital, 200 kilometers to the north.

Like everywhere in Haiti, the southern peninsula also suffers from sky-high inflation. But while prices have increased by more than 25 percent nationally, the southwest region has seen the prices of some food products double since the beginning of the year.

“Even the prices of local products are rising: for example, farmers are selling their lemons at a higher price to be able to buy rice, which is imported,” Hippolyte says.

The doctor, who considers himself lucky compared with the country’s poorest, is nevertheless obliged to “limit (his) travels because of the price of gasoline.”

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