UN fails to get its hands clean in Haiti

UN fails to get its hands clean in Haiti
March 6, 2013 Andy Taylor
hands-clean

UN fails to get its hands clean in Haiti. March 3, 2013  Paul McGeough The Age. Original article here

And they wonder why people throw bombs. The United Nations rejects any guilt or responsibility for an outbreak of cholera in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that flattened Haiti, despite incontrovertible evidence that the disease was introduced by Nepalese soldiers brought to the island by the UN.

Last week, it rejected claims in the name of 8000-plus dead Haitians and another 646,000 who contracted but survived the illness, because the claims were ”not receivable”.

Not receivable? Where does this language come from? Was Ban Ki-moon worried they’d deliver those revoltingly overdone Haitian corpses to the linen-and-silver-service restaurant atop the UN bunker in New York?
And how did the UN write its get-out-of-jail card on this one?

Thank God for a SOFA – a State of Forces Agreement. Ban Ki-Moon argues that the deal under which the UN operates in Haiti gives it total immunity. Maybe those clever Iraqis were awake to this kind of try-on when they refused to sign a SOFA with the US, meaning no troops could be left behind as it cleared out after the George W. Bush war; and maybe the Afghans aren’t so smart – because the latest guessing is they will sign on for thousands of US troops to remain next year, when the bulk of those still on the ground get out.

The Haiti epidemic did not unfold in a war zone where access for investigators and humanitarian teams might have been impossible. A who’s who of the world’s NGOs and news media already was on the ground.

It was an Al-Jazeera crew that filmed UN soldiers trying to contain a sewage spill on the banks of the stream running past their base. The Associated Press saw overflowing septic tanks and UN landfill pits uphill from the river in which locals washed and did their laundry.

Working it out wasn’t rocket science. The French infectious diseases specialist Dr Renaud Piarroux investigated and concluded the only way to have a south Asian strain of cholera halfway around the world in rural Haiti, in a Nepalese Army base with poor sanitation, was for a soldier to have introduced it. And it was the UN that moved them, without screening, from a known cholera source to a community so in crisis that it was ripe for an outbreak of infectious disease.

But the UN wasn’t going to take that lying down. ”We don’t think the cholera outbreak is attributable to any single factor,” a UN official responded.

Yes, it is – it was the Nepalese poo. Any attempt to dodge blame and to deny responsibility for what happened after the point of defecation is heartless beyond belief.

Why was the UN in Haiti in the first place? Their presence pre-dated the quake. In 2004, about 10,000 troops and assorted others were sent to quell political unrest. Get this – they call it a ”stabilisation” force.

Given that the Haitian people had to cop the cholera epidemic on top of the second most destructive earthquake of all time – more than 300,000 dead, by a local count – it’s not surprising they were angry. A seething Ocxama Moise, the deputy mayor in his town, told The New York Times’s Deborah Sontag how he seriously wanted to kill a few of the Nepalese soldiers, but was talked out of it by friends.

Moise was being so unreasonable. I mean, spare a thought for poor Edmond Mulet, the head of the UN mission. He was moaning publicly that it was ”really unfair to accuse the UN of bringing cholera to Haiti”.

Superstitious locals even took to lynching voodoo priests, blaming them for the cholera curse.
Poor buggers – how were they to know that the real voodoo was up at the UN?

Tension roiled and the UN tried to deflect blame, charging that ”agitators” were trying to take advantage of the epidemic in the lead-up to local elections. Thank God for the UN stabilisation force – otherwise things might really have got out of hand.

The argument that it wasn’t the Nepalese poo that did the damage is predicated on apportioning blame to poor public sanitation in the earthquake zone – only 12 per cent of people have treated and piped water; only 17 per cent have access to pit latrines or better sanitation.

Next, they’ll be suing the families of the collateral damage victims in Iraq and Afghanistan for getting in the way – ”How dare you drive down Abdullah Street when we are shooting?” and ”What right do you have to sleep in your bed when we might drop a bomb through your roof?” Ingrates! Take them to the cleaners …

For all their lackadaisical Caribbean ways, the Haitians might reasonably have thought they had dodged this bullet – twice. Despite cholera raging through Latin America in the 1990s and closer to home, in the Caribbean in the 19th century, not a single case had been recorded in Haiti.

And they’d have been forgiven for thinking that God, or whoever, was on their side – until that quake knocked the bejesus out of them.

But if the UN can’t deal with the cause of this epidemic, why will they not deal adequately with the effect?
Unconscionable and all as it is, let them sweep the first 8000-odd deaths under the carpet. And if it makes them feel better, let the lawyers quibble about the propriety or morality of cash claims by individuals at a time of national calamity.

But is there anything stopping Ban Ki-Moon from doing a serious whip-around of all the missions at the UN, for the $US2.27 billion ($2.2 billion) it would cost to fix Haiti’s water supply and sanitation systems?

It’s hard not to be amazed at how our response to crisis is dictated by who the victims are – 3000 Americans die in the September 11 attacks, and the world goes berserk, spending countless billions on crazy wars and inane security; 8000 [and counting] Haitians die because of the UN’s blind stupidity, and we can’t find what a business buddy calls ”a couple of lazy bills” to fix it?

Bearing all this in mind, it’s worth thinking about all the finger-pointing on this one. The UN is such an easy, over-there target, especially for reactionary types who mewl and puke because sometimes it gets in the way of a good war.

But what, or who, is the UN – it’s you and me; and it’s you too, Julia, Tony, Christine.

Makes you sick, doesn’t it?

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