The United Nations (UN) has been blamed for the ongoing cholera epidemic in Haiti, demolished by an earthquake 5 years back. The UN has denied legal responsibility for cholera outbreak that has killed 8,000 Haitians, but all scientific evidence points to poor sanitation at a peacekeeping base of the UN troops.
Victims of the disease are trying to sue for damages in a US court, but the UN and its donor states are hiding behind the legal immunity conferred on it by its founding treaties. A judge in New York is due to decide whether or not the lawsuit, a class action brought by Haitian and Haitian-American victims of the cholera outbreak, can go ahead against the UN.
AdvertisementThe outbreak started in Mirebalais, a central town on the Artibonite River, downstream of a Nepalese peacekeeping base where local people reported frequent sewerage overflows. However, the World Health Organization's (WHO) resident representative in Haiti, Jean Luc Poncelet, said, "Seeking to blame someone distracts from the vital work of containing the disease. The question is not accusing people. Why we have cholera is that for many years there's been no investment in infrastructure such as water distribution systems. Cholera was due to arrive in Haiti one day, that's very clear."
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, "The United Nations has a moral responsibility to help the Haitian people as they attempt to halt the spread of the disease." Treatment centers have been set up and the WHO is working with the Red Cross to treat huge numbers of cholera cases. Survival rates have gone up but the suffering continues, in an impoverished country which already had a fragile health infrastructure before the earthquake and before the cholera arrived.
The UN is trying to seek more donor money for the treatment and prevention of cholera, and the infrastructural improvements that would protect Haiti from future outbreaks.