New York Daily News
October, 30, 2012
Shame on the United Nations for refusing to confront likely responsibility for a cholera epidemic that has killed thousands in the impoverished nation of Haiti.
These are the facts, in all their tragic starkness: In January 2010, an earthquake caused widespread death and destruction in the Caribbean country.
There was a worldwide relief drive, ranging from small donations via text messages to national mobilizations. The UN beefed up a peacekeeping force to help maintain public order.
Later that year, cholera erupted in the region of Artibonite. Doctors were stupefied as to how and why the often fatal bacterial infection had shown up in Haiti after more than 100 years. Something or someone had brought it back.
The disease causes severe dehydration via diarrhea and can spread quickly through wastewater. And spread it did.
Once the disease hit the capital, Port-au-Prince, 60 miles from Artibonite, it was a full-scale epidemic. To date, cholera has killed some 7,500 Haitians and sickened 600,000. Last year, Haiti logged more cholera cases than all the rest of the world combined.
In 2011, the UN commissioned a report that traced the spread of the cholera outbreak across Haiti, but the document did not specifically say where the disease had come from.
But now, one of the report’s authors, Daniele Lantagne, a Tufts University public health expert, believes she has found the culprit. Having performed a genetic analysis of the bacteria, Lantagne concluded that they were from a strain of cholera that is common halfway around the world — in the country of Nepal.
The discovery fit neatly with the fact that UN peacekeepers stationed at a camp in western Haiti were Nepalese.
Lantagne concluded: “We can now say that the most likely source of the introduction of cholera into Haiti was someone infected with the Nepal strain of cholera and associated with the United Nations Mirabalais camp.”
Because of inadequate sanitation, the Nepalese soldiers’ waste could have seeped into the Meye River, right outside the camp. From there, the disease could have traveled to the town of Mirabalais — and then to the rest of the country.
The UN’s response to Lantagne’s findings has been one of galling denial, likely because cholera victims have begun seeking compensation.
Nigel Fisher, a UN official in Haiti, said, “The investigation is still with the legal office.”
According to a UN press release, Undersecretary General Hervé Ladsous deems it “impossible to establish the origins of the disease.”
There is no doubt the UN had no intention of importing cholera to Haiti. Whether it did so negligently is a question that demands an answer. Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a group that monitors the United Nations, got it just right in saying:
“No one is accusing the UN of deliberately poisoning Haiti’s water supply. But when one of its own designated experts concludes that a UN division negligently caused a mass epidemic, the victims are owed a better response than denial and deafening silence.”