Publication Date: 2024/04/22

Remarks by UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell

April 22, 2024 - Excellencies … good afternoon. It is good to be with you. 

Thank you to Ambassador Frazier for hosting this discussion during Malta’s Security Council presidency, and for inviting me to brief you on the worsening humanitarian situation in Haiti.  

Today, I am speaking both as UNICEF Executive Director, and as the designated Principal Advocate on the Humanitarian Situation in Haiti for the Inter Agency Standing Committee.

Excellencies … the situation in Haiti is catastrophic, and it grows worse by the day. 

Five and a half million people, including three million children – or two in every three children across the country – need humanitarian assistance. In many areas, essential services have collapsed, while people are losing access to food and safe drinking water. And in some communities, life is more dangerous now than it has ever been. 

At its heart, the crisis in Haiti is a protection crisis. Years of political turmoil, and devastating economic conditions have led to the proliferation of armed groups. Today, an estimated 2.7 million people, including 1.6 million women and children, live in areas under their effective control.  When I last visited Haiti, I saw firsthand how horrific violence and fear are tearing apart the very fabric that binds families and communities together.

Each day, children are being injured or killed. Some are being recruited, or they are joining armed groups out of sheer desperation. Recent UNICEF data indicates that anywhere from 30 to per 50 cent of armed groups in Haiti currently have children within their ranks. 

Women and girls continue to be targeted with extreme levels of gender-based and sexual violence. Last year, thousands of cases of sexual violence were reported, many of which were perpetrated against children. The true number of cases is likely much higher.

With multiple grave violations regularly being committed against children every day, Haiti has the tragic distinction of having been removed and then reintroduced to this Council’s Children and Armed Conflict agenda.

So far in 2024, the violence has continued and even intensified. Since the start of the year, more than 2,500 people have been killed, injured or kidnapped … and the UN has verified more than 400 grave rights violations against children. At the same time, families continue to be displaced by the violence. In fact, we estimate that more than 180,000 children are now internally displaced. 

Armed groups have also strangled major transport routes from Port-au-Prince to the rest of the country – destroying livelihoods and restricting access to services. And as the armed groups gain more territory, neighborhoods are setting up barricades and self-defense teams to defend against the violence. The result is that hundreds of thousands of children and their families living in besieged communities are largely cut off from humanitarian aid and essential services.

This life-threatening mix of conditions has caused a deepening food security and nutrition crisis – especially for children. 

Recent findings from the IPC analysis indicate an alarming 19 per cent increase in the number of children projected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition in Haiti this year. The analysis also showed that 1.64 million people are facing emergency levels of acute food insecurity, which increases the risk of child wasting and malnutrition.

At the same time, the insecurity in Port-au-Prince has made it virtually impossible for health and nutrition supplies to reach at least 58,000 children suffering from severe wasting in the metropolitan area. The Martissant [‘Mar-tiss-an’] road, the only humanitarian corridor from Port-au-Prince to the southern regions, remains blocked, leaving an estimated 15,000 children suffering from malnutrition at risk of death.

Making matters worse, cholera has reemerged, with more than 80,000 cases, plunging the country further into crisis and uncertainty.

The violence is also compromising the work of humanitarian actors on the ground. Our access to the port of Port-au-Prince has been cut off because of armed groups operating in the area – leaving nearly 300 containers loaded with lifesaving humanitarian supplies stranded. This includes seventeen UNICEF containers holding nutrition supplements, as well as neonatal, maternal and medical supplies. Port-au-Prince is now almost completely sealed off because of air, sea and land blockades.

But despite the risks and operational complexity, our organizations and partners are still reaching the most vulnerable children and families with lifesaving services. Together, we are doing our utmost to provide nutrition and health services, respond to the cholera outbreak, and support mobile Child Protection teams.

Humanitarian partners are now establishing a Logistics Platform in Cap-Haitien, where a secondary international airport and a port remain operational. We have also opened new supply lines outside of Port-au-Prince to ensure the delivery of humanitarian cargo.

Excellencies … we are delivering for the people of Haiti, and we are committed to staying on the ground to meet the soaring humanitarian needs. But we require more support. The 2024 Humanitarian Needs and Response Plan, which requires $674 million to reach of 3.6 million people, is just 8 per cent funded. 

We need donors and member states to urgently increase flexible humanitarian funding. This will help us to provide lifesaving aid, while also implementing solutions for longer-term development and resilience building. 

Excellencies … we recognize this Council’s efforts to bring peace and security to Haiti. Today, we are asking you to use your leverage with state actors and armed groups to protect human rights, and to create safety and security for the Haitian people. 

We respectfully, but urgently request that in your efforts to address the crisis, you reiterate the need for adherence to international law, norms, standards and principles … and for prioritizing the protection of people in need.

And we ask that in these efforts, you do everything in your power to facilitate impartial, independent humanitarian action in Haiti. We strongly believe that we can only reach all people in need across the country through sustained humanitarian dialogue with all armed actors. It is imperative that the humanitarian response is perceived as being independent from political and security objectives.         

Recognizing that the Multi-National Security Support Mission to Haiti will likely be deployed in dense urban environments, the safety of the civilian population is paramount. The use of force in and around populated areas must be avoided, and the mission must only use the least harmful means that are necessary and proportionate to the legitimate law enforcement objective. 

Preventing sexual exploitation and abuse will require thorough pre-deployment and on-the-ground training. Police Contributing Countries must take all necessary steps to conduct any investigations of allegations as expeditiously as possible, and to hold perpetrators of SEA accountable. All children associated with armed groups encountered by security forces must be treated primarily as victims and safely handed over to child protection actors.

The international community should also prioritize active engagement with Haitian partners, including civil society, local stakeholders and community leaders. 

This will help to strengthen the capacity of Haitian organizations and institutions … protect human rights … AND facilitate a more efficient humanitarian response that reflects the local context and experience of the Haitian people. 

Excellencies … the time for action is long overdue. The Haitian people need an immediate scale up in both regional and international support, without which the situation could become unrecoverable. But even if all the rights steps are taken to quell this crisis, it will not be solved quickly. We must deliver comprehensive political and financial support, now and over the long term. And we must work hand-in-hand with the Haitian people to develop the innovative solutions needed to deliver their vision of a peaceful, prosperous society. 

Thank you.  

Remove this and add your HTML markup here.


UNICEF is the world’s leading humanitarian organization focused on children. We work in the most challenging areas to provide protection, healthcare and immunizations, education, safe water and sanitation and nutrition. As part of the United Nations, our unrivaled reach spans more than 190 countries and territories, ensuring we are on the ground to help the most disadvantaged children. While part of the UN system, UNICEF relies entirely on voluntary donations to finance our life-saving work. Please visit and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For further information please contact: