Haiti's cholera epidemic has killed more than 7,585 Haitians, and infected over 594,198 to date, with a minimum of 200 new cases per day. In August, Tropical Storm Isaac highlighted the urgent need for the clean water and sanitation infrastructure necessary to curtail the epidemic, as floods usually contaminate drinking water sources.
Momentum has been building to pressure the UN to respond justly to the nearly 600,000 victims of the cholera epidemic. In January, ABC News published an article entitled: "UN Soldiers Brought Deadly Superbug to Americas". In March, Bill Clinton, UN Special Envoy for Haiti, publicly affirmed that UN peacekeepers were the "proximate cause", which brought "the cholera strain into the waterways of Haiti, into the bodies of Haitians". Hundreds of Haitians marched from the UN's base to the Haitian parliament, demanding justice for cholera victims. The New York Times ran a front-page story confirming the UN's responsibility in bringing cholera to Haiti, and exposing its failure to respond accordingly. After a visit to Haiti by the UN Security Council, the missions of the US, France, and Pakistan, declared to the Security Council that the UN must do "whatever is necessary to make this situation right".
In April, The Economist published a scathing piece calling on the UN to accept responsibility for its wrongdoings in Haiti. In May, Nigel Fischer, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti, acknowledged that the UN's current efforts were "patchwork, Band-aid work on a fundamental problem," and that "the long-term solution was investment in improved drinking water sources and waste management." The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and prominent French epidemiologists have published studies confirming the source of the disease; while Washington Post editorials, TransAfrica Forum, Human Rights groups, and faith-based organisations, like the Church World Service, have called for the UN and the international community to take responsibility swiftly in ending the epidemic.
On 17 July, US Representative John Conyers, Jr (D-Mich.), and 103 other Members of Congress sent a letter to Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the United Nations, applauding her call for UN accountability, and asking her to urge the organisation to take a leading role in addressing the cholera crisis in Haiti, which according to the Haitian Government, infects hundreds of new victims every day.
The Congressmen wrote: "As cholera was brought to Haiti due to the actions of the UN, we believe that it is imperative for the UN to now act decisively to eliminate this deadly disease from the island of Hispaniola... A failure to act will not only lead to countless more deaths: it will undermine the crucial effort to reconstruct Haiti."
The IJDH/BAI lawsuit aims to compel the UN to spend $750 million — $1.2 billion on comprehensive water and sanitation infrastructure, which would improve Haiti for decades. By comparison, MINUSTAH's operating budget in Haiti for one year is around $800 million, and only half of the $5.33 billion pledged for earthquake recovery has been disbursed. With nearly half-a-million homeless earthquake victims in sprawling tent camps, exposed to disease, eviction, arson, and violence, the Red Cross, whose core mission is humanitarian assistance during emergencies, is planning to build a hotel on a property it purchased for $10.5 million of funds collected in the name of suffering Haitians; while the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund made a $2 million equity investment in the 5-star Royal Oasis hotel.
If the lawsuit is successful, the clean water and sanitation infrastructure will save between 50,000 – 70,000 lives over the next ten years, by eradicating cholera, and all other water-borne diseases.
On 4 June, seven months after the filing of the lawsuit, a "Regional Coalition on Water and Sanitation for the Elimination of Cholera in the Island of Hispaniola", was launched by UN agencies, World Health Organization (WHO), and UNICEF, in collaboration with the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), and the Inter-American Association of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering (AIDIS). The Coalition pledged to support efforts by the governments of Haiti and the Dominican Republic "to harmonize and streamline international assistance and investments in water and sanitation infrastructure aimed at eliminating cholera from the island". On 18 September, Caricom joined the Coalition. But four months after its launch, the Coalition is still merely "urging governments and international organizations to support their efforts", and disburse the reconstruction funds pledged in 2010.
In the words of Betsey Chace, a finance volunteer with IJDH: "... fair treatment of Haiti by the international community [is] the only thing that will enable Haiti to break the cycle of extreme vulnerability to disasters. There is little natural about a death toll in the (hundreds) of thousands from an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude, or massive loss of life from heavy rainfall. These unnatural disasters result from political, environmental, and economic conditions, that will improve only when Haitians are supported rather than thwarted in building a system of laws, rights, and accountability, that are the foundation of a just and safe society."
On 28 July 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution recognising access to clean water and sanitation as a human right essential to human dignity, and to the realisation of all other human rights. We urge the entire Caribbean family to stand up with us, to ensure that the basic human rights of the Haitian people are upheld, that the Coalition undertakes in earnest its avowed mission of cholera eradication, and that the UN returns to its core mission, of fighting infectious diseases, not spreading them.
(Part 1 appeared in yesterday's Express).
Myrtha Désulmé is president of
the Haiti-Jamaica Society and the Caribbean Representative of the
Haitian Diaspora Federation