By Margaret Eby, Editor
The 2010-2013 cholera epidemic in Haiti was the worst cholera epidemic in modern history. By the summer of 2013, over 8,000 Haitians had died and as much as 6% of the population had been infected. Although it seemed to be the most recent in a string of random tragic events in the country, evidence now suggests that cholera was in fact reintroduced by U.N. peacekeepers sent to maintain order after the earthquake of 2010.
Despite several independent investigations into the cause of the outbreak all pointing to Nepalese peacekeepers and poorly maintained sanitation in the camp, the U.N. has yet to admit to any wrongdoing and has continued to focus any attention on dealing with the aftermath of the epidemic rather than its roots. A visit by Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon to a cholera ravaged village in July was dubbed a “pilgrimage” by the New York Times, yet Mr. Ban failed to acknowledge any responsibility for the outbreak. Haitian victims have united to bring a lawsuit against the UN, with over 5,000 survivors petitioning for millions in reparations. The UN has thus far responded by invoking its immunity under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities Act of 1946, and the lawsuit is ongoing in the Southern District of NY federal court.
This recent cover-up is only an instance of the problems already existing within the health aid world. The fact that aid is free should not exempt the giver from maintaining stringent quality control, and certainly should not equate to complete immunity. While it is natural that large international organization like the UN should feel secure in running their complex and multinational operations without threat of illegitimate claims being filed against them, this does not excuse such a massive and negligent error. The fact that the UN continues to completely ignore their role in such a disastrous epidemic is not only concerning in this instance, but also sets a low standard for future aid responsibility.
This editorial was not composed with the intent to condemn the UN or to dismiss the humanitarian work that has been done in the country since 2010. It is intended simply to highlight the importance of public health awareness and to encourage reflection on the intent and result of foreign involvement. If you’re interested in reading more about the cause of the cholera outbreak in Haiti and the UN’s response, check out this further reading:
CNN interviews the Prime Minister of Haiti, a UN spokesperson, and the New York lawyer representing the Haitians suing the UN.
BBC discusses leaked report by French epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux who investigated the cause of the outbreak on behalf of the French and Haitian governments.
“The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster.” by Jonathan M. Katz.
Katz was working as a reporter on Haiti when his investigation of the cholera outbreak led him to discover cover-up operations by the UN. His book is an expose of the dangerous culture of travelling aid and its impact on post-earthquake Haiti.