Will UN Recognition of Water, Sanitation Rights Translate to Cholera Justice?

The United Nations General Assembly recently recognized water and sanitation access as basic human rights but the UN still hasn’t done much to ensure or protect those rights in Haiti, where UN peacekeepers introduced a deadly cholera epidemic in 2010. Now that the UN General Assembly has taken this step, will Haiti’s cholera victims finally have justice?

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General Assembly’s Recognition of the Human Right to Sanitation Should Prompt Action In Haiti

Beatrice Lindstrom and Sienna Merope-Synge, Huffington Post – The World Post
February 1, 2016

Last month, the UN General Assembly took an important step forward in promoting access to adequate sanitation, unanimously adopting Resolution 70/169 recognizing the right to sanitation as a distinct human right and emphasizing the need for non-state actors as well as States to do more to realize it.

As noted by the General Assembly, the right to sanitation is too often neglected. Over 2.5 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation, undermining their privacy and dignity and leading to the contamination of water and spread of disease. Over 950,000 people practice ‘open defecation’, something the UN General Assembly described as ‘one of the clearest manifestation of poverty and extreme poverty’. Halving the number of people without access to basic sanitation was one of the Millennium Development Goals, but the international community failed abysmally, missing the goal by almost 700 million people. Further, the UN believes that “official figures…underestimate the numbers of those without access to safe and affordable drinking water and safely managed and affordable sanitation”.

The devastating impact of failure to protect the right to sanitation is evident in Haiti, where a cholera epidemic introduced by UN peacekeepers in 2010 through the reckless discharge of human waste into Haiti’s main river system continues to devastate the country. Cholera poisoned rivers, wells and other water sources and, in the absence of adequate water and sanitation infrastructure, spread quickly and ruthlessly through the population. Five years on, more than 9000 Haitians have died and 745,000 – or 8 percent of the population – have been infected. Victims tell harrowing stories of watching parents, siblings and children die in front of them within a few hours of contracting cholera, of experiencing diarrhea and vomiting so extreme they lost consciousness, and of their fears of contracting cholera again.

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