Mon | Nov 29, 2021

Beleaguered Haiti capital brought to brink by fuel shortages

Published:Monday | October 25, 2021 | 2:58 PM
People gather outside a gas station in hopes of filling their tanks, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Saturday, October 23, 2021. The ongoing fuel shortage has worsened, with demonstrators blocking roads and burning tires in Haiti's capital to decry the severe shortage and a spike in insecurity. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti's capital has been brought to the brink of exhaustion by fuel shortages, after staggering along despite an earthquake, the assassination of the president, gang violence and mass kidnappings.

More than two weeks of fuel deliveries interrupted by gang blockades and abductions of fuel truck drivers have driven residents of Port-au-Prince to a desperate search for gasoline and diesel.

The fuels are widely used to run generators needed to compensate for the country's unreliable electrical system.

The city's main fuel terminals are located in or near gang-dominated neighbourhoods like Martissant, La Saline and Cite Soliel, and some gangs have reportedly been demanding extortion payments to allow fuel trucks through.

The gangs have become a powerful force in Haiti.

One of the gangs recently kidnapped 17 members of a US-based missionary group and reportedly demanded a ransom of $1 million each for their release, warning that the hostages will be killed if their demands aren't met. There is no word yet on their fate.

The gangs have also kidnapped hundreds of Haitians, and the government appears unable, or unwilling, to take them on.

Protests broke out Saturday in the Delmas neighbourhood, where gas stations have run out of fuel. Police arrived and dispersed the crowds with warning shots of what appeared to be live rounds.

Some of the country's cell phone networks suffered service declines as fuel to run cell tower equipment ran short.

Officials at the Saint Damien hospital, the capital's foremost paediatrics centre, said it had only three days of fuel left to run generators that power ventilators and medical equipment. The hospital can run partly on solar power, but that doesn't provide enough electricity for all its needs.

Denso Gay, the hospital's project manager, said Saint Damien is treating two patients with COVID-19 and also handles urgent surgeries, like C-sections.

“I am very worried,” Gay said.

“The situation is very critical.”

“The oxygen is running on electricity. If we don't have electricity to run the oxygen and the (medical) apparatus, we will need to close” to new patients, he said.

Gay estimates the approximately 1,500 gallons of fuel left in the hospital's reserve tanks would last only for about three more days.

The hospital normally gets deliveries of about 3,000 gallons of fuel twice a month.

“We contacted the company, and they said they cannot deliver, they cannot come across town because of the danger to the drivers,” Gay said.

The United Nations Children's Fund warned Sunday that “hundreds of women and children who seek emergency care in health facilities are at risk of dying if solutions are not found to the fuel shortage prevailing in Haiti for weeks due to insecurity.”

It said several hospitals across the country have sent pleas for help directly to UNICEF and its partners.

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