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Haiti Political Crisis Takes Heavy Toll; UN Seeks Humanitarian Access - 2004-02-15


U.N. aid agencies are appealing to all parties involved in violence in Haiti to grant them greater access to victims. A U.N. emergency mission traveled to Haiti last week to assess the looming humanitarian crisis. It reports that children and women are the main victims of the escalating violence.

U.N. Children's Fund spokesman Damian Personnaz says children in Haiti are facing serious risks to their health and their physical and mental well-being. And he says violence against women is getting worse.

"This new crisis will increase the already very poor economical and social situations of the most vulnerable people in this country," explained Mr. Personnaz. "You have to know that 1.2 million children are basically suffering from chronic malnutrition."

Mr. Personnaz says this is one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world and the highest in the western hemisphere. In addition, he says, violence against women is growing. Even before the current crisis, he says eight out of 10 women in Haiti suffered from physical, sexual, and other forms of violence, which is the highest rate in the world.

Because of the prevailing security situation, Mr. Personnaz says aid agencies have been deprived of access to about one-third of the country.

"This is a main concern," he said. "And I think that could be quickly improved if both sides stopped to use the roads and to fight and so on. What we need is access to the northern part of the country. We need to have access in order to check what is going on. Also to be able to deliver emergency health kits and education tool kits."

As the violence in Haiti increases, UNICEF reports it is becoming more difficult for children to attend school, receive medical attention, and find food and shelter. It says children in the streets of urban centers are especially at risk. It notes school attendance in Haiti has dropped dramatically in most areas, due to unsafe roads, lack of security in schools and disruption of public transportation.