What the UN Owes Haiti

Source: The Nation

I contracted cholera by the breezy beaches of Port Salut, Haiti, while attempting to escape a burnout, a broken heart and the lingering pangs of Dengue fever. Cholera’s not a whole lot different from food poisoning, and it’s no big deal if you’ve got a clean toilet, potable water, know how to treat it and aren’t malnourished.

But in Haiti, where there is no sewage system, and where access to water and sanitation is mostly privatized, cholera has been a death sentence: more than 8,000 people have died and 640,000 (and counting) made ill since the South Asian strain was imported, likely by United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal in October 2010, according to a host of scientific studies. It is now the worst cholera epidemic in modern history.

In late February, the Haitian government released its long-awaited $2.2 billion, ten-year cholera elimination plan. Just the week before, the UN had rejected a legal claim filed by more than 5,000 cholera victims seeking financial compensation, an apology from the UN for gross negligence, and a commitment to build water and sanitation infrastructure in Haiti.

Invoking immunity under the UN’s 1946 convention, the United Nations basically snubbed the claim as “not receivable” and has not apologized. Worse, it has committed itself to fund only 1 percent ($23.5 million) of Haiti’s cholera elimination plan; it recommends Haiti get the rest from the “private sector” or from “major venture philanthropist individuals,” according to Nigel Fisher, the new head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

In a country where nearly 80 percent of people live on less than $2 a day, privatized water and sanitation access has left more than 80 percent of the population without adequate sanitation and nearly a third without potable water. Those in tent camps and shanties who can’t pay for toilets are forced to defecate into plastic bags, which end up in the nearest canal or ravine. Those who can pay avail themselves of a free-market chaos of water and waste tanker trucks, run almost entirely by the local or international NGO private sector. A sharp rise in the price of gasoline, which could easily result from a change in the PetroCaribe deal offered by Venezuela’s late president, Hugo Chávez, could quickly deepen Haiti’s water and sanitation crisis.

Haiti is one of the few countries in the world where water security has deteriorated since the Millennium Development Goals were implemented, despite a $650 million-a-year peacekeeping mission whose premise for being in a country with no war and one of the lowest homicide rates in the region is that Haiti is a “failed state.” The UN knew full well the menace cholera posed, yet the UN Development Program does not see water access as part of its “development” mandate.

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