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U.N. blames Haitian victims in cholera epidemic

Published May 15, 2011 10:32 PM

Nearly 5,000 Haitians have died from cholera since October 22, with another 300,000 made ill by the disease. As the spring rainy season begins in Haiti, the number of new cholera cases is ballooning.

The leading medical journal, The Lancet, recently predicted that there would be nearly 800,000 cases of cholera and 11,000 deaths this year by the end of November. (Thelancet.com, March 16)

On May 4, the United Nations put out a 32-page, “Final Report of the Independent Panel of Experts on the Cholera Outbreak in Haiti,” carefully claiming that a “confluence of circumstances” — which is not the fault of any group or individual — was responsible for the fast-moving outbreak (un.org)

However, cholera had not been known in Haiti for more than a century. This outbreak began near the Mirebalais garrison of Minustah, the U.N. occupation forces, which have been in Haiti since 2004. They replaced U.S., French and Canadian troops who were sent there after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was kidnapped earlier that year.

The U.N. military camp is on the Meye River, which is a tributary of the Artibonite, the main river in Haiti. Epidemiologists have established that the cholera pathogen was spread because Haitians use the river’s water out of necessity as part of their daily lives.

After a TV station in Mirebelais documented the U.N. garrison’s dumping of raw excreta into the Meye River, and students confronted the troops, Haitians pointed at the Minustah troops as the source of the epidemic. The camp’s wholly inadequate “sanitary facilities” are shown in photographs in the U.N. report. (See pp. 21-22)

The source of the cholera epidemic doesn’t make much difference in how victims are treated. They need quick hydration and require antibiotics in serious cases. However, it does make a difference in how cholera is controlled. If the outbreak had been caused by a long dormant pathogen native to Haiti or Latin America, different measures would have been taken than if it was introduced from a recent external source. The U.N. report documents this cholera pathogen’s genetic composition as being very similar to types found in South Asia, the origin of the U.N. soldiers based at Mirebalais.

The U.N. seeks to escape blame for this cholera outbreak by pointing to “simultaneous water and sanitation and health care system deficiencies,” in Haiti. However, the U.N. has spent billions of dollars in its seven-year military occupation of Haiti and is well aware of the country’s sanitation situation and that there is not a public sewerage system.

Although U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his sympathy to those stricken with the disease and their families, the organization will not accept the full blame for the cholera epidemic. If it did, it would open up the U.N. to a tidal wave of lawsuits, damage claims, and tremendous political fallout and international criticism.

Even more, it would add more fuel to the just demands of the Haitian people for an end to the imperialist occupation.