On One-Year Anniversary of Cholera’s Return to Haiti, CEPR Co-Director Calls for Restitution from United Nations Troops

For Immediate Release

On One-Year Anniversary of Cholera’s Return to Haiti, CEPR Co-Director Calls for Restitution from United Nations Troops

WASHINGTON - The United Nations should provide restitution to Haiti for reintroducing cholera into the country, according to Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). Today marks the one-year anniversary of the discovery of new cholera cases in Haiti. Previously, the disease had been unknown in Haiti for over 100 years. Over 6,500 people have died from cholera-related symptoms and over 460,000 have been infected over the past year.

“There are no credible experts who doubt that it was UN troops who brought cholera back to Haiti, and are responsible for the deadly epidemic that has followed,” Weisbrot said. “Yet the UN stubbornly continues to deny responsibility. If the UN Mission is in Haiti to provide safety and security to the Haitian people, the least it can do is offer to make amends for causing one of Haiti’s deadliest disease outbreaks in its history.”

The one-year anniversary of the cholera outbreak comes as medical groups such as Medicins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) have warned that cholera cases are spiking yet again, following a decrease earlier in the summer. Haiti’s Health Ministry reports that there are as many as 700 new infections each day. Despite this, some providers are cutting back on cholera [PDF] and sanitation assistance, due to a lack of funding. The current budget for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is close to $1 billion USD per year, almost nine times the $130 million that the international community has disbursed to fight cholera.

Despite statements from UN officials over the past year, several scientific studies have matched the cholera strain now infecting Haitian patients with one endemic to Nepal, and the first cholera infections in 2010 were located downriver from a MINUSTAH base of Nepalese troops. An Associated Press visit to the camp in October 2010 documented the waste from the base contaminating the Artibonite river, and photographs also corroborate eyewitness testimony that MINUSTAH troops have dumped sewage into the river.

“Considering the lack of safe drinking water in many parts of Haiti, the MINUSTAH troops’ dumping sewage into rivers was an act of clear criminal negligence,” Weisbrot said. “The susceptibility of the Haitian population to a cholera epidemic, in the aftermath of the earthquake, was already a serious concern for health professionals months before the outbreak began.

“The MINUSTAH authorities should be held responsible for this negligence. This is a disaster of proportions on par with Union Carbide’s gas leak disaster in Bhopal, but much worse in terms of the human impact.”

Weisbrot also noted that the UN’s own recommendations [PDF] for responding to the cholera epidemic include prioritizing “investment in piped, treated drinking water supplies and improved sanitation throughout Haiti.”

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