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Some 19,000 people in Haiti are facing catastrophic levels of hunger

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Haiti is now in the sixth week of a fuel blockade by armed gangs in the capital of Port-au-Prince. That's making a hunger crisis in the country more dire by the day.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Yeah. The Haitian Health Ministry says the number of suspected cases of cholera has nearly doubled in the past few days and is now close to 2,000.

FADEL: NPR's Eyder Peralta is in Port-au-Prince, and he joins us now.

Good morning, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So I understand you spoke to officials from the World Food Program there in Haiti. What are they saying?

PERALTA: I spoke to Jean-Martin Bauer, the country director for the WFP, and he paints a dire picture. He says that in some areas that are currently under gang control, some mothers are heating up water with salt for dinner. That's all they have. A study that the WFP did found that 19,000 people are facing catastrophic levels of hunger. And that's a technical designation - the worst level of hunger before a famine is declared. And that is the first time it has happened in Haiti or in the Americas.

I pushed Bauer, telling him that if this is such an extraordinary situation, then why have we seen so little presence of the WFP in Port-au-Prince? And he said that they're doing their best. Let's listen.

JEAN-MARTIN BAUER: Yes, we need to do more, but will be very hard for us to do more when armed groups hold the fuel port and the roads of the borders are controlled by armed groups. When my staff can't come to the office because they're being threatened of being attacked or raped or burned, there's only so much that can be done in this kind of environment. So we're doing our best. And we're hoping that we'll have the opportunity to support the Haitian population in security and dignity.

FADEL: So it's not safe for a lot of people to try to help. I know the U.S. and Canada sent two big planeloads of security equipment to the Haitian police earlier this month. Has that changed anything?

PERALTA: The armored vehicles that were sent haven't made it out to the streets. So not much has changed. When we're in downtown Port-au-Prince, we can hear the gunfire coming from the neighborhoods that are under gang control. The people we've spoken to who live there say they live through daily gun battles, that they have to risk their lives to go to work or to go to the supermarket. And yesterday, the violence hit the journalism fraternity. One of the most well-known journalists in Haiti, Roberson Alphonse, survived an assassination attempt.

Alphonse is known as a sharp critic of the government because he drew a connection between public officials and criminal gangs. He was driving to his radio show when gunmen opened fire. They fired at least 10 bullets. Alphonse was hit several times. He was helped by people on the streets. He was taken to the hospital. And luckily, friends tell us that he's in stable condition.

FADEL: Wow. And what is the government saying about all this?

PERALTA: Not much - we've been asking for an interview over and over with the acting prime minister or anyone at his office, and we have heard nothing. But more importantly, the people of Haiti have heard nothing. We're now going on almost six weeks of this fuel blockade, and the prime minister has not spoken to the nation. So the government at the moment seems almost completely absent. The prime minister, Ariel Henri, did call for an international intervention, but that also seems stalled. At this point, it seems unlikely that the UN will even vote on the matter this week.

FADEL: NPR's Eyder Peralta reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Thank you so much, Eyder.

PERALTA: Thank you, Leila.

(SOUNDBITE OF PENSEES' "LUNAMOTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.