September 5, 2012, Washington, D.C.
Human Rights groups, faith-based organizations and humanitarian organizations in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaac renew their call for UN responsibility for clean water and sanitation in Haiti and the entire island of Hispaniola.
The storm underscores the urgent need for clean water and sanitation infrastructure necessary to curtail the cholera epidemic. While the initial death toll from the storm is reportedly at twenty-four, this number could very well spike due to the potential increase in cholera cases. Cholera has sickened almost 600,000 people and took more than 7,400 lives in Haiti since the epidemic broke out in October 2010.
This July, 104 members of Congress sent a letter to Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, requesting that she urge the world body to act decisively to address Haiti’s cholera crisis. In light of the potential devastation from Isaac, we urge Ambassador Rice to respond to this important appeal.
Local authorities expect cholera levels to spike after the rains and flash flooding brought by Isaac. When Haiti experienced heavy rainfall last April, cholera levels increased. The lack of adequate sanitation and safe drinking water in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps means that drinking water sources are likely to be contaminated by waste water when flooding occurs. According to medical experts, if the multitudes of Haitians living in camps are left without access to a potable water source, Isaac could carry contaminated water to new locations and exacerbate what is already a complex emergency. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recently reported a “very weak” “capacity to respond to potential outbreaks,” such as could occur with a drenching tropical storm.
The cholera epidemic will continue unless the Haitian people have universal access to clean water and basic sanitation. The UN has a responsibility to play a leadership role in these efforts. Independent scientific studies have established that this cholera was brought to Haiti by a troop contingent of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), and that the waste disposal practices at their base allowed the bacteria to contaminate Haiti’s largest river system.
Haitians deserve their basic rights – access to clean water and a sanitation system that help contain, not spread infectious diseases.