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As UN Denies Responsibility for Outbreak, Haiti Puts Forward $2.2 Billion Plan to End Cholera

'This is the greatest public health intervention that could be implemented in Haiti'

Common Dreams staff

Cholera patients at a clinic in Delmas, Haiti. The number of reported new cases has risen in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. (Photo: Thony Belizaire/AFP/Getty)

Despite new evidence that delineates a direct correlation between UN peacekeepers and the outbreak of cholera in 2010, the United Nations continues to refuse responsibility for the damage caused in Haiti even as the poverty-stricken nation puts forward a plan to dramatically improve its water infrastructure in an attempt to combat the lingering and deadly impact of the disease.

In an appeal to the international community, the Haitian government is hoping to raise $2.2 billion for a fund that would be used to improve key systems, mainly sanitation and water services such as building water supply systems, sewer systems, wastewater treatment plants, and improving access to latrines, especially in schools.

The plan and request for funding follows a recent increase in cholera cases that proliferated in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and amid warnings that the US and other large donors are decreasing their funding for disease control, The Guardian reports.

Backing for Haiti's approach has come from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Pan American Health Organization and UNICEF.

"This is the greatest public health intervention that could be implemented in Haiti, but it's a long-term strategy, it's not a fix tomorrow," Dr. Jordan Tappero, director of the Health Systems Reconstruction Office for the CDC's Center for Global Health, told the Associated Press. "Our goal is to eliminate transmission of cholera."

Cholera was unheard of in Haiti for a century until October 2010, when a villager who lived downstream of a UN camp populated by Nepalese peacekeepers died of the disease, The Guardian reported at the time. At least 142 people died of the disease and more than 1,500 were sickened.

The Guardian reports:

Since then, cholera has spread along the river, across the flood plains and into the slums of the capital, Port-au-Prince. About 6% of the population have been infected and more than 7,500 people have died – a higher toll than the political violence that brought the peacekeepers to Haiti.

According to the World Health Organisation, the 340,000 cases in Haiti last year were more than the rest of the world put together. This year, cases have declined, but hundreds of new infections are still being diagnosed every week, particularly in the wake of hurricane Sandy.

Last week, the International Organisation for Migration said Haitain officials reported a spike of 3,593 cases since mid-October.

The Associated Press reports that cholera has also killed more than 420 people in the Dominican Republic.

The Haitain government will ask for more than $500 million over two years as a short-term emergency response to the epidemic, with approximately another $1.5 billion requested for the following 8 years to eliminate the disease, The Guardian reports.

The UN has not accepted responsibility for the outbreak, and following an investigation —and acknowledging inadequate sanitation at the peacekeeper's camp as the possible source of the bacterium — it concluded the outbreak was not the fault of "any group or individual."

But The Guardian reports that US cholera specialist Daniele Lantagne recently cited new evidence showing "an exact match" of the strains of cholera from the camp and the victims. The troops are gone, and the area cleaned up, but locals still blame the UN — and still are unable to find clean water.

"The troops were shitting and pissing in the river. It used to stink. Many people got sick," Johnson Pierre told The Guardian as his girlfriend washed clothes in the stream. "We don't like the UN. They have given us nothing. They're not clean. And we are still getting cholera."

So last year, lawyers and campaigners filed a multibillion dollar claim at the UN headquarters on behalf of 5,000 plaintiffs, demanding $100,000 compensation for each of the families of the victims and calling on the UN to invest at least $750 million in the water infrastructure of Haiti, which ranks last on global water poverty indexes despite its many rivers, lakes and streams, The Guardian reports.

Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, said he plans to expand his case to include thousands more cases, and that if the UN fails to respond, lawyers will file in a national court in the US, Haiti or Europe.

"There is general agreement that this wall of impunity is going to come down at one time or another," he said. "If any case should do it, this would be it as the case is clear."

So far, the World Bank plans to contribute $5 million, part of a $15 million grant that went unspent, the Associated Press reports. The rest of the plan is unfunded at this point.

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