Haiti, Cholera and UN Intransigence

“On, January 12, 2010, Haiti was devastated by a large earthquake, with the epicenter being 16 miles west of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Ten months later, cholera cases and deaths began to appear in the rural Artibonite Department, about 62 miles north of Port-au-Prince (1). The disease had not been present in Haiti for at least half a century, so the emergence of a cholera epidemic was a surprising development.

The story of the emergence and impact of cholera in Haiti is similar to what Dr. John Snow faced in London in the mid 1800s. At that time, he observed multiple cases and deaths from cholera, hypothesized a waterborne route of transmission, and noted the important roll of both the River Thames and a local water pump. Others at the time supported the miasma theory, believing cholera was transmitted through the air. Snow’s intention, in explaining the epidemiology of the disease, was to prevent future occurrences of cholera. Ultimately, Snow’s view of the disease was proven to be right.”
(Source: UCLA Department of Epidemiology)

I’m getting obsessed with epidemiology now, I guess it’s the mix of hard science and detective story. I only found out the story behind the horrible Haiti cholera outbreak recently, the article above gives a good summation.

Of the two hypotheses, the one where it was imported by UN personnel sent to aid Haiti is now the most generally accepted. But the UN said in February that they would be refusing to issue any compensation:

The UN has taken the rare step of invoking its legal immunity to rebuff claims for compensation from 5,000 victims of the Haiti cholera epidemic, the worst outbreak of the disease in modern times and widely believed to have been caused by UN peacekeepers importing the infection into the country.

Citing a convention laid down in 1946, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, telephoned President Michel Martelly of Haiti to tell him that the UN was not willing to compensate any of the claimants. The epidemic has killed almost 8,000 people and stricken hundreds of thousands more – about one out of every 16 Haitians.
(Source: The Guardian)

I understand the UN’s stance but I totally disagree with it. They’re trying to protect themselves from any other current or future similar claims, where their actions inadvertently caused more harm than good. That’s probably what their lawyers advised them to do. But this totally runs against the spirit of the UN, all it’s meant to stand for and it brings shame upon the whole organisation to so cavalierly dismiss the suffering they caused.

If they at least admitted their culpability and then started to find ways to compensate Haiti through aid programmes, that would be something but to deny even that crumb seems monstrous.

Tragedy upon tragedy for the Haitians.