A historical insight into centuries of international meddling and mishaps in Haiti. Will they ever learn?
In October 2010, a United Nations Stabilisation Mission (MINUSTAH) base near Mirebalais polluted the Meille River with faecal matter. The excrement contained cholera bacteria.
The MINUSTAH base was manned by 454 troops sourced from Nepal. Three weeks before they were deployed, cholera broke out in Nepal. The UN did not conduct a subsequent health screening. The infected faeces were then recklessly leaked into the arteries of Haiti’s main water basin.
The epidemic tore through Haitian society. To date, over one million Haitians have been infected, and close to 10,000 have died. The epidemic is far larger and has lasted far longer than the West African Ebola outbreak. The disease is not yet under control. Six years ago, cholera was unknown in Haiti. Today, it may now be endemic.
For years, the UN has dodged the blame. Last month, however, journalist Jonathan Katz discovered that the office of Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon had conceded that the UN was at fault for the initial outbreak and must consequently do much more to alleviate the suffering. A few days earlier, Philip Alston, NYU professor and “special rapporteur” to the UN, confidentially reported that “the scientific evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the arrival of Nepalese peacekeepers and the outbreak of cholera are directly linked to one another.”
These leaks mark an exciting moment in advocacy work. For years grassroots groups inside and outside Haiti have called for the UN to acknowledge its negligence, work dili- gently to tackle the epidemic, and provide proper compensation to the victims and their families.