The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Dan Beeton, 202-239-1460

Bill Clinton's Admission of UN Responsibility for Haiti's Cholera Epidemic is a Welcome Step Forward, CEPR Co-Director Says

UN Should Now Get Rid of the Disease that it Brought by Building the Infrastructure for Clean Water and Sanitation


UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton's admission yesterday that a "UN peacekeeping soldier from South Asia" had "introduced cholera into Haiti" is an important first step toward accountability for this disaster, Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) said. President Clinton's comments represent the first public acknowledgement of responsibility from a senior UN official, and follow over a year of official UN denials -- despite a number of scientific studies that have shown that UN troops brought the bacteria.

"President Clinton's acknowledgement, as a UN official, should bring us one step closer to the UN taking responsibility for what it has done, and fixing it." Weisbrot said.

"The deaths and disease from the cholera in Haiti will only be eliminated, as they were from Latin America after the 1991 outbreak, when Haiti has adequate drinking water and sanitation," said Weisbrot. "Since the UN brought this disease to Haiti - through its own carelessness - it is now the United Nations' responsibility to provide this infrastructure."

Weisbrot added that the international community, especially the United States, which brought UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) troops to Haiti, must share in that responsibility.

Clinton made the remarks in response to questions from independent journalist Ansel Herz regarding the origins of the cholera epidemic that has killed over 7,000 people and infected more than half-a-million.

"I don't know that the person who introduced cholera into Haiti, the UN peacekeeping soldier from South Asia was aware that he was carrying the virus," Clinton says in audio that Herz recorded at a press conference. "It was the proximate cause of cholera. That is, he was carrying the cholera strain; it came from his waste stream into the waterways of Haiti and into the bodies of Haitians."

Although senior UN officials have previously attempted to attribute the epidemic to other causes, an independent panel that prepared a report [PDF] for the UN also found that UN troops were most likely responsible. One of the authors of the report, Daniele Lantagne, said "The most likely scenario is that someone associated with the UN MINUSTAH facility was the person responsible," in an interview with Aljazeera posted online yesterday.

Other studies published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the New England Journal of Medicine, and the most definitive study by 15 scientists last August, all reached the same conclusion as to the origin of the bacteria.

Earlier this week, U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN Susan Rice called on the UN to take responsibility for the outbreak, urging it to "redouble its efforts to prevent any further incidents of this kind and to ensure that those responsible are held accountable."

"Clinton's remarks are reminiscent of his mea culpa for harmful food aid practices that devastated Haiti's agricultural sector," Weisbrot said. "In that case the damage was already done. But cholera, if the international community doesn't take urgent steps, will kill many more people and could be endemic to Haiti for a long time. If the UN took responsibility right now it could ramp up treatment and prevention and compensate victims, and the end of the story could be very different.

"This is all the more urgent as the rainy season begins in Haiti," Weisbrot added. "Cholera incidence rises and declines with the rainy and dry seasons, respectively. It's important now that everyone does everything they can to prevent, mitigate, and treat cholera now, or we will see a lot more lives lost.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) was established in 1999 to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives. In order for citizens to effectively exercise their voices in a democracy, they should be informed about the problems and choices that they face. CEPR is committed to presenting issues in an accurate and understandable manner, so that the public is better prepared to choose among the various policy options.

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