[News] UN Responds to Haiti’s Cholera Crisis by Sending Repackaged Aid

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Dec 19 12:34:09 EST 2012

December 19, 2012

The Cholera Plan Remains Totally Underfunded

  UN Responds to Haiti’s Cholera Crisis by Sending Repackaged Aid


December 18, 2012–In a short ceremony in New York City on Dec. 11, UN 
Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced 
what appeared to be an important nod to international grassroots 
pressure to fund a universal treatment and prevention program for 
cholera in Haiti. He said that  $215 million from bilateral and 
multilateral donors and $23.5 million from the UN’s own coffers were 
being pledged to a plan by the governments of Haiti and the Dominican 
Republic to limit the spread of cholera and eventually eliminate the 
disease from the island that the two countries share.

However, on closer examination, it turns out that the $23.5 million is 
the only new money involved, amounting to a mere one percent of the $2.2 
billion some estimate it will cost to eliminate cholera.

Also, Ban did not acknowledge that UN troops brought the disease to the 
Caribbean country, one of the key demands of a year-old suit by Haitian 
cholera victims. Evidence from numerous studies has established that 
Haiti’s cholera epidemic, currently the world’s worst, was caused by 
sewage from a garrison of Nepalese UN soldiers leaking into the 
headwaters of the country’s largest river, the Artibonite, in October 
2010. To date, close to 8,000 have died and over 630,000 have been sickened.

The Secretary-General also announced that Dr. Paul Farmer, a co-founder 
of the global health agency Partners In Health (PIH), will serve as 
special advisor to his office on community-based medicine. Zanmi 
Lasante, PIH’s Haitian arm, is one of the country’s most important 
health care providers. Farmer already acts as the deputy to the UN’s 
special envoy to Haiti, former U.S. president Bill Clinton.

While some in global health and aid circles hailed Ban’s announcement, 
others were rightly circumspect, in view of the string of lofty 
pronouncements on cholera throughout 2012 that have produced little 
progress on the ground.

*Behind the Figures*

The Secretary-General’s announcement was in support of the “Call for 
Action for a Cholera-free Hispaniola” made  in January 2012 by the 
Presidents of Haiti and the Dominican Republic with support from the Pan 
American Health Organization (PAHO)/World Health Organization (WHO), the 
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the United States Centers 
for Disease Control and Prevention.

That call led to the launch in Brazil on June 4 of the “Regional 
Coalition on Water and Sanitation for the Elimination of Cholera on the 
Island of Hispaniola.” The Coalition has expanded several times since 
then, always with plenty of fanfare.

The main focus of the UN’s cholera prevention efforts, Ban said, are 
construction of clean drinking water and sanitation systems in the two 
countries and increasing the use of oral vaccines. But his comments on 
the two paths of treatment focused on vaccination, not on clean water 
and sanitation systems which experts argue is the only lasting way to 
eliminate the disease.

Many news outlets headlined that Ban had announced a ten-year, $2.2 
billion cholera plan for Haiti, but he gave no such figure. “Haiti will 
need almost $500 million over the next two years to carry out its 
national implementation plan,” he said.

The $2.2-billion and 10-year figures come from a UN “media backgrounder” 
for the Dec. 11 announcement. They appear nowhere in the WHO/PAHO report 
on the Dec. 11 announcement nor in the Regional Coalition’s page on the 
PAHO website. <http://new.paho.org/colera/?p=217> The larger plan and 
figures will undoubtedly be a centerpiece of Haitian government 
announcements on the third anniversary of the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake.

“Far from launching an ambitious new initiative, the UN was merely 
repackaging a still-unfunded, year-old effort,” write former AP 
correspondent in Haiti Jonathan Katz and international aid blogger Tom 
Murphy in /Foreign Policy/ on Dec. 18 
Almost all of the bilateral and multilateral $215 million announced had 
been pledged already to Haiti but not yet delivered, they point out.

As for the $2.2 billion plan, it “is purely aspirational.” Unlike the 
9,000-strong UN occupation force MINUSTAH which is budgeted to receive 
$677 million over the next year alone, “The (cholera) initiative is 
almost totally unfunded.”

*Pressure on International Authorities*

An article by Mark Weisbrot 
of the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) published by Al 
Jazeera on Dec. 12 said that Ban’s announcement is a sign that organized 
political pressure on the world body can produce results for Haiti. But 
the UN’s announced plan is too slow, Weisbrot argues. Some 700 people 
have died since seasonal rains began in April 2012, including close to 
200 since Hurricane Sandy caused widespread flooding on Oct. 23 and 24. 
“The necessary infrastructure work should begin immediately, not years 
from now,” he wrote.

Examples of pressure, Weisbrot explained, are the legal action against 
the UN 
brought by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and 
the Office of International Lawyers (/Bureau des avocats internationaux/ 
or BAI) on behalf of 5000 Haitian cholera victims in November 2011; 
editorials in the New York Times 
Boston Globe 
and other major newspapers; a July 2012 letter 
signed by 104 U.S. Democratic Congresspeople; and constant street 
protests in Haiti and its diaspora.

Another pressure point on the UN is that cholera has killed nearly 400 
people in the Dominican Republic, endangering its tourism industry, 
which brings in over $4 billion annually. Dominican officials want “to 
dispel the idea that visitors could be in danger of contracting 
cholera,” wrote Ezra Fieser on /Infosurhoy.com/ last year. She quotes 
the Dominican Health Minister as saying, “We as a nation must fight to 
save our economy, which is basically tourism.”

Weisbrot points to looming funding cut-offs for cholera treatment. PIH, 
for example, says that its U.S. funding for cholera treatment will run 
in February. “In 2012, the UN requested just $30m for cholera treatment, 
yet only 34% of this has been raised 
he writes. “There were 205 cholera treatment units and 61 cholera 
treatment centres in Haiti in August 2011; by June 2012, these had 
fallen to 38 and 17, respectively.”

The cholera shortfall is consistent with a broader funding shortfall for 
post-earthquake reconstruction in Haiti. Of $5.3 billion pledged by 
governments to help Haiti to date, just $2.8 billion (53%) has been 

*Other Reactions to the Plan*

A joint statement <http://ijdh.org/archives/30090> issued by the IJDH 
and BAI cautiously welcomed Ban’s announcement, calling its promise of 
clean water delivery systems “one of the key remedies sought” in their 
legal action launched in November 2011.

“We are pleased that the UN is finally taking steps consistent with its 
legal obligations,” said Mario Joseph, lead counsel for the petitioners 
and Managing Attorney of the BAI. “But more resources are needed, and 
there needs to be more urgency. In the two years it took to launch this 
initiative… over 7,700 Haitians have died. Haitians will continue to die 
from UN cholera until clean water and sanitation is actually installed.”

In an interview 
with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s radio program /As It 
Happens/ on Dec. 12/, /IJDH staff attorney Beatrice Lindstrom explained 
that the cholera legal action has four main goals: assistance in 
establishing clean water and sanitation systems in Haiti; a fair hearing 
before international law for the victims of cholera; compensation to the 
families of the victims; and an apology for the reckless conduct of the 
UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH) in allowing the cholera 
bacteria to enter the country via its soldiers and failing to act 
quickly to prevent its spread.

“The United Nations is good at launching appeals for aid,” wrote Mark 
Doyle, veteran BBC reporter in Haiti, after the Dec. 11 announcement. 
“It is less good at admitting its own faults.”

*Cholera’s Ongoing Threat*

Joining the UN Secretary-General for the Dec. 11 announcement were Haiti 
Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and Dominican Health Minister Lorenzo 
Wilfredo Hidalgo.

Lamothe spoke for four minutes, thanking governments and agencies 
assisting with cholera response and saying that his government has a 
two-year $600 million project to fight cholera. “We have to work 
together to bridge the remaining gap,” he said, implying that the $238.5 
million announced would go towards his government’s goal.

To date, officials of the government of President Michel Martelly, 
including Lamothe,  have not uttered a word about the cholera lawsuit 
against the UN.

According to the most recent data from the World Bank, only 69% of 
Haitians have access to “improved drinking water” and just 17% have 
access to “improved sanitation”, defined in the plan as “flush toilets, 
septic tanks, ventilated improved pit latrines or composting toilets.” 
Among the poorest 20%, only 1% has access to improved water and more 
than 90% “practice open air defecation.”

At a press briefing following Ban’s announcement, UN Humanitarian 
Coordinator for Haiti Nigel Fisher would not comment on whether the 
MINUSTAH occupation force is to blame for bringing cholera to Haiti. 
Repeating statements he has made throughout 2012, he said the issue “is 
with the legal office and as a staff member I am not authorized to say 
anything about the legal process at this time.”

PAHO director Mirta Roses Periago told the briefing that it is not 
necessarily advisable to screen every UN soldier for diseases before 
they are deployed on international missions. But she said PAHO has 
advised the Secretary-General “to have special provisions for people 
coming from endemic areas and being sure that there is no outbreak going 
on at the time that people are being deployed.”

She said that the main problem for cholera in Haiti is poor sanitation 
and water infrastructure, noting that about 100 cases of cholera are 
imported to the United States each year without causing an epidemic. UN 
officials have used variations of that argument to deny culpability ever 
since the epidemic’s outbreak.* *

*How you can help*

More than 7,500 people around the world have signed an online petition 
on Avaaz initiated by film director Oliver Stone demanding more and 
faster UN assistance for clean water infrastructure in Haiti. It is 
still collecting signatures.

Ongoing information about Haiti after the 2010 earthquake is published 
by the CEPR on its invaluable Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch 
blog. More recently, the Just Foreign Policy organization that Mark 
Weisbrot also co-directs has begun to publish the informative and 
innovative ‘Haiti Cholera Counter 
<http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/haiti-cholera-counter>’ web page 
feature. You can place the feature on any website.

You can contribute financially to the IJDH and BAI 
<http://ijdh.org/get-involved/jobs> or volunteer your time to assist 
their work.

Watch for events around the world to mark the third anniversary of 
Haiti’s earthquake, including screenings, followed by panel discussions, 
of Michele Mitchell’s 2012 documentary film, “/Haiti: Where Did The 
Money Go?/” and seminars in London, England. Full event listings can be 
found on the website <http://canadahaitiaction.ca/> of the Canada Haiti 
Action Network.

/*Roger Annis* is a coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network and 
resides in Vancouver, Canada./

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