Amid the hopefulness of the formal establishment of the nine member transitional council in Haiti on Friday, one must ask how effective it can be in view of gang control of most of Port-au-Prince. Indeed, what exactly can the council do when the gangs have more powerful assault weapons than the police and call the shots, literally and figuratively? President Biden’s release of millions of dollars for better weapons and protection gear for the police has the potential to finally start evening the weapons matchup after years of officially restricting the export of powerful guns to Haiti’s police. Gangs, of course, have never had to operate under any constraints. They just bought the assault weapons in the US from any number of stores and had them smuggled to Haiti, thus giving them the huge advantage they enjoy.

Since the council will have no real power to enforce anything and be largely focused on their own security in the capital, Northern Haiti will fill the vacuum and continue to rise in prominence and power. With the complete shutdown of the airport and near closure of the port in Port-au-Prince, all international flights and almost all cargo are being diverted to Cap-Haitien, which remains relatively calm. In short, Cap-Haitien is replacing Port-au-Prince economically and will soon dominate politically. Port-au-Prince, sadly, is a dying city that is not likely to recover soon.

As people flee Port-au-Prince, close to 100,000 now according to UN estimates, and famine looms for many more in and out of the city, the most urgent question is how to ensure that food aid arrives and is properly distributed without gang interference. Agencies shipping food aid through Cap-Haitien must first contend with delays in offloading because the port of Cap-Haitien does not have the capacity to quickly process all the ships arriving. (Some ships have opted to unload in the port of Manzanillo in the Dominican Republic and truck the supplies across the nearby border to Haiti.)

Second, once the aid is offloaded, it must be transported by trucks over Haiti’s main highway, Route National, to the outskirts of Port-au-Prince where the threat of famine is most acute This involves crossing two mountain ranges over perilous switchback roads hugging steep cliffs that sometimes get washed out. The trip takes about 7 hours.

Third, it is still an open question as to how these trucks will be protected once they get close to Port-au-Prince or even into the largely gang controlled city. The police are simply not numerous or well enough equipped to take on gangs that will likely attack and try to steal the aid. Earlier in the week, a gang actually hijacked a ship in Port-au-Prince transporting rice that resulted in a five hour gun battle with police. In a rare but significant victory, the police managed to beat back the gangs, but not before the gang took around 10,000 pounds of rice.

Assistance by foreign troops from other Caribbean islands supported by Americans and Canadians could be the best option for ensuring safe passage of the aid shipments moving from Cap-Haitien to Port-au-Prince. Of course, there is also the Kenyan troop option, if the judicial and political hold-ups there are ever resolved in that country. But the Kenyan troops, however well-trained, are the not the best option for Haiti, since this is foreign territory for them.

Regardless, any foreign military intervention is fraught with political ramifications and thus must be done in close cooperation with Haitian authorities. Haitians must be involved in the planning and execution from the beginning. This is where the council could provide some legitimacy for foreign troop assistance. But the council will also have to recognize and accept the significant power shift to the North and work closely with police and political authorities there. The North cannot be relegated back to secondary status, as was the case before the gangs took over almost all of Port-au-Prince. There is a new reality in Haiti that isn’t going away.