(RNS) — For nearly three years, since the assassination of Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, in 2021, the country has been run by lawless gangs, whose haphazard rule has exacerbated the poverty left by an earthquake in 2010. Recently, a surge in violence among these gangs has thrown crucial sectors into chaos, particularly impacting the health care system, educational system and child nutritional status.

The current food crisis is grave, with at least 115,000 children in Haiti expected to suffer from life-threatening malnutrition this year — a 30% increase over 2022. Approximately 40% of them reside in and around the capital, Port-au-Prince, which is significantly affected by gang violence obstructing critical food supplies. Most faith-based nonprofits serving in Haiti have had to cease or decrease operations due to the danger the gangs pose, as shown by the kidnapping of multiple aid workers and missionaries.

Meanwhile only 1 in 4 health facilities today remain reachable, leaving a significant portion of the population without proper medical care. This poses a lethal threat to malnourished children who are already at risk for cholera. Haiti has been among the top five countries in numbers of recorded cholera cases, and the spread of violence has disrupted water treatment plants, making it difficult to combat the resurgent epidemic.

Children are also being denied their right to education, with the brutal violence forcibly displacing families, disrupting educational routines. Many schools are located in areas that are now unsafe due to gang activity. The disruption of rice and agricultural production, a lifeline for the economy, further affects families’ ability to support their children’s education.

Urgent humanitarian efforts are needed to address this crisis and protect Haiti’s future generations. But that can’t be provided until an international peacekeeping force can be dispatched to Haiti to help restore law and order, disarm gangs and create a secure environment for citizens. This is necessary to facilitate democratic processes, such as free and fair elections, which must take place in order for Haiti’s government to be restored and for the will of the people to be enacted.

Such stability is also essential for delivering humanitarian aid to vulnerable populations. A secure environment allows for rebuilding infrastructure, improving health care and addressing food insecurity. International peacekeepers can collaborate with local authorities to create a conducive environment for economic development.

This is also important for preventing regional instability. Haiti’s chaos has spillover effects on neighboring countries. A peacekeeping force may prevent the crisis from destabilizing the entire region; regional stability is crucial for trade, cooperation, and addressing shared challenges.

For all these reasons, the international community has a moral obligation to support Haiti during this crisis.

Peacekeeping forces demonstrate solidarity and commitment to peace, justice and human rights. Collective efforts can prevent further suffering and promote a path toward sustainable development. It is a crucial step toward stability and the eventual re-establishment of a functioning democratic government.

Those who care about Haiti and its people have been petitioning for such a force since the gangs first started wreaking havoc. It is disappointing that the violence was allowed to escalate to this point before world leaders took notice, but I am hopeful we are seeing more momentum to facilitate this process.

However, a complicating factor is the return of Guy Philippe, a notorious coup leader whose presence in the country is sparking grave concerns given the existing turmoil Haiti faces. There is a leadership vacuum following the resignation of self-appointed Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who was unable to return to Haiti from a trip abroad where he was raising support for peacekeeping forces. Philippe, however, is not likely to be the answer.

A charismatic leader who was instrumental in the 2004 rebellion against former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Philippe has powerful ties to police, politicians and the business elite. His influence, connections and past actions raise concerns that he may increase violence, undermine governance and hinder recovery efforts, while his messianic self-perception as a leader who should guide the nation adds to the uncertainty and turmoil.

The solutions for Haiti have always been fraught. But the first step historically has been to establish security with the intervention of the international community to stop the bloodshed and ongoing human rights violations. Only then, after peace has been achieved throughout the country, can Haitian civil society rebuild democratic principles and hold free and fair elections.

Then, to realize long-term success, Haitians must themselves control corruption and build critical infrastructure so their economy and population will thrive. But until people are free to leave their homes without being kidnapped or killed, we can’t expect to see any of that happen.

(David Vanderpool is a surgeon who leads the international faith-based nonprofit LiveBeyond and provided emergency medical response in Haiti following the earthquake in 2010. Since then, he returned full time to establish a compound providing clean water, nutritional support and health care to the poor of Thomazeau, Haiti (currently run by Haitian staff with remote oversight).

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