Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

The United Nations must make amends for triggering the cholera epidemic in Haiti: editorial

Editorial Board,
August 21, 2013

The epidemic killed 8,000 people and infected more than 600,000 after Haiti’s deadly earthquake in 2010, according to the Yale University researchers.

Yet the United Nations has ignored mounting evidence that its Nepalese peacekeepers started the still-raging cholera outbreak. The world body continues to turn a blind eye to its legal and moral responsibility by maintaining that, in any case, it’s immune from victims’ claims.

When you’re wrong,  you’re supposed to apologize and make amends.

That golden rule applies to the United Nations, too. New research seems to confirm earlier suspicions that it was U.N. peacekeepers who triggered a massive cholera epidemic in Haiti.

It ought to own up to its mistakes in poor, devastated Haiti and take steps to ensure that it doesn’t put other vulnerable countries at risk.

At the very least, the United Nations must take a close look at the evidence gathered by Yale University researchers in their report called “Peacekeeping without Accountability,” which traces Haiti’s strain of cholera — a life-threatening disease that causes severe diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration — to a similar strain in Nepal.

The Nepalese came to Haiti as part of a U.N. security and humanitarian mission but the researchers say that poorly built sanitation facilities at their base led to contamination of Haiti’s central river, the Artibonite, which many poor Haitians use for drinking, cooking and bathing. The report points out that despite Haiti’s poor waste-water facilities, it had experienced no significant cholera epidemics  since the 1800s.

At first, the United Nations clung to a 2010 study released by the U.N. Independent Panel of Experts, a group of scientists appointed by the United Nations to review the cholera crisis. Its initial study said found insufficient evidence to blame the peacekeepers.  But the panel’s follow-up study, issued last month, pointed a finger at the Nepalese base.

U.N. official now says that researchers should present their report to U.N. headquarters in New York and allow the organization to review it.

Fair enough.

 But the United Nations should stop dragging its feet. Haiti has suffered enough. If the world body is at fault, it must apologize to Haiti, take responsibility for its actions and do more to help Haiti’s cholera victims and their families. And it should do everything to make sure that such a mistake does not happen again.

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