The United Nations brought much more than questionable effectiveness and growing resentment to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake; they also brought the world’s deadliest cholera outbreak in recent history. As of January 2013, in just three years, the epidemic has killed over 8,136 Haitians and infected more than 650,000. Now, although the U.N. has said it is committed to combatting the disease, many feel the organization has not given enough in victim compensation and prevention funding.
Part of the problem is that there are differing opinions about what group is actually responsible for bringing cholera into Haiti. Not surprisingly, a study conducted by an independent panel appointed by UN chief Ban Ki-Moon did not determine conclusively how cholera was introduced to the island. They concluded that, while the cholera bacteria did not originate “from the native environs of Haiti,” the outbreak was not the fault of a specific group or individual.
However, a June 2011 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded what was already widely believed by many inside and outside of Haiti. The report said that U.N. peacekeeping troops on mission in Haiti from Nepal were likely the cause of the outbreak. Their findings are pretty hard to argue with considering that each strain of Vibrio cholera bacteria has a genetic fingerprint, and the particular strain that caused the outbreak originated in Nepal.
The tragic irony of the disease is that the treatment is very simple: rehydrate. And yet, the cure is also the very cause. The Artibonite River is Haiti’s longest and most powerful river, supplying Port-au-Prince’s 1.2 million residents with hydroelectric power. Since the Nepalese U.N. peacekeepers infected the river by improperly disposing their untreated waste, it is now also Haiti’s deadliest.
Now, sparking concern worldwide from human rights groups and politicians alike, the United Nations has failed to provide compensation to the thousands of cholera victims in Haiti. They’ve also failed to provide sufficient funds to combat the disease. As it stands today, the U.N. has given an additional $140 million to Haiti for cholera prevention projects, such as wastewater treatment plants. After the earthquake in 2010, the U.N. pledged to give $23.5 million to a donor aid program called Hispaniola Initiative. Still, this pledge is less than one percent of what the initiative needs to fund its projects in Haiti alone.
The Boston-based human rights group, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), has led an effort to receive compensation on behalf of 5,000 cholera victims. In November 2011, the group filed a claim against the U.N. demanding hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation and a public apology. IJDH says it will take the U.N. to court in Haiti, the U.S. or Europe.
The epidemic still rages today, with international aid agencies worried that it may spiral even more out of control in the coming years. Between May and June of this year, cholera cases increased by 40% in Haiti. With thousands of potential victims unable to afford or access proper healthcare, Haiti deserves better.
– Kathryn Cassibry