Accountability in Haiti: The UN’s Role in the Cholera Epidemic

My housemate is currently working as an intern for the Institute for Justice and Democracy (IJDH) located in Boston, Massachusetts. Though only beginning there a week ago, she has already brought home incredible stories and world-wide news I had never even heard of. One news story that struck me as particularly important was the recent cholera epidemic in Haiti.

Cholera is a bacterial infection of the small intestine which often leads to watery vomiting and diarrhea. With these unpleasant symptoms there often follows severe dehydration, and in a place like Haiti where clean water (and in this case a clean river) is harder to come by, untreated cholera can prove to be life-threatening. Since the Haitian outbreak over 8,500 people have died and over 700,000 have fallen ill to this contagion. What is even more concerning is how rapidly cholera is spreading; since 2010 reports of cholera are becoming increasingly more common everywhere from Central Mexico to Asia!

The first Haitian outbreak occurred during the October of 2010 in a village named Meille, located at the base of the Meille River. The first signs of trouble started shortly after a United Nations erected a stabilization and peacekeeping mission on that same river. Later epidemiological studies have verified that it was the facility’s pollution which sparked this recent endemic. These findings also coincide with local reports of foul odors and overflowing waste pits contaminating resident’s lands and communities. Though reputable research, from places such as Yale Law School and the Yale School of Public Health, has confirmed the UN’s part in the cholera outbreak, the United Nations has adamantly denied responsibility for the cholera outbreak in Haiti- even refusing to speak of the matter any further.

Despite their stubborn stance on the issue the UN has taken considerable action against the cholera crisis in Haiti. Since 2010 the UN has helped establish or refine about 160 cholera treatment facilities and established a water-quality monitoring system in 56 health centers. The UN has also built sanitary waste facilities in 240 schools and purchased enough cholera vaccinations for up to 110,000 people. These name just a few examples of the UN’s ongoing efforts to combat cholera in Haiti.

This was not the first cholera attack in Haiti; in fact it has been present in Haiti since the year 1831. It is unfortunate that the U.N. is so deeply involved in this particular case of cholera in Meille, but when looking at their efforts towards treating and eradicating this disease (which I encourage you to explore in the first link below) – there is some respect due.  This topic is currently a hot topic of debate as Haiti pursues legal action against the United Nations- but I wonder how much more the U.N. would be able to help this cause considering the amount of funding and effort they have already invested. Perhaps Haiti’s energy would be most effective if directed back towards the actual problem, rather than towards an organization whose presence in Haiti has been with good intention. On the other hand, a little accountability on the U.N.’s part might go a long way.

Readers: What do you think? Start talking about things that matter! 

http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/haiti/haiticholerafactsheet-december-2013.pdf

http://www.ijdh.org/2014/06/projects/the-fight-against-un-impunity-and-immunity-in-haiti-the-cholera-scandal/ – .U458m_ldWGs

 

 

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