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WFP fears more hunger amid gang violence in Haiti

People in need of food call out for a sack of rice during a federal government distribution of food and school supplies to some residents of Cite Soleil, in Port-au-Prince   -  
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AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

Haitian politics

The widespread violence that took over Haiti’s capital on February 29 has brought even more fears of a humanitarian crisis in the country.

In one of the shelters for displaced families in capital Port-au-Prince, hundreds fight to get to the cooked meals distributed by the World Food Program.

Thousands of families are living in shelters after being forced to flee their homes because of gang activity in their neighborhoods, and are almost

totally dependant on food distributed by the World Food Program and Haitian government institutions like the civil defense.

The terrifying violence as anti-government gangs battle police in the streets has crippled the fragile economy and made it extremely difficult for many of the country's most vulnerable to feed themselves.

The director of the World Food Program for Haiti, Jean Martin Bauer, said the program will focus on the distribution of essential food assistance to the most vulnerable - the displaced.

According to Bauer, Haiti has a level of food insecurity of over 4 million people “a huge number for a country of 11 million people" of which 1.4 million are “one step away from famine,” said Bauer.

Shanthalia Trasibille is a food vendor that has been in the shelter since November last year when she had to escape her neighborhood during a gang attack.

“Sometimes we spend days without food. We eat when we find food. I have nothing – only my body and my soul,” she said.

From the early hours of the morning, volunteers gather at the WFP Central Kitchen in Port-au-Prince to start cooking nearly 14,000 meals to be distributed to the shelters and schools in the capital.

The violence has made a very bad situation even worse, with another 15 thousand people being displaced just over the first weekend in March bringing the total of displaced in Haiti to 360,000 according to the U.N

Apart from the difficulties and danger of distributing the food through streets that are still not safe, there is concern over the closing of port and airport that could bring even more disruption to the supplies.

Despite an apparent let up on the violence in the last few days, the capital still has 80% of its territory controlled by the gangs.

Early on Thursday, a fire broke out at the national penitentiary, the same one that was stormed by gangs on the 2nd of March in which some 4,000 inmates escaped – some of them gang members and leaders.

Heavily armed police officers entered the building but up to this moment there are no official reports of casualties or the cause of the fire.