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Cholera in Haiti: Is the United Nations Mission trying to cover up the origin of the epidemic? By Stanley Lucas

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Before and after the January 12 earthquake that devastated Haiti, the country was cholera-free -- it never appeared on the global list of countries contaminated by cholera. That all changed in mid-October this year when a cholera outbreak was registered in the lower Central Plateau immediately giving rise to many theories on the origin of the outbreak. Recent developments pinpoint the source to the Nepalese base of United Nations Mission (MINUSTAH) in Haiti.

New photos and video evidence show a truck from the Nepalese MINUSTAH base dumping sewage into a tributary of the Artibonite River in Mirebalais. Sewage traveled 400m and contaminated the Artibonite -- a major source of clean water for the Central Plateau and the Artibonite areas.

Aljazeera, the Middle East news outlet, also discovered that the toilets in the Nepalese base in Mirebalais are connected to a tributary connected to the Artibonite. The video shows UN Nepalese soldiers making a hasty effort to close the drains without notifying Haitian authorities. In the Aljazeera video (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gk-2HyQHUZ0&feature=player_embedded ), the efforts to contain the spill appear to be a cover up. It is worth mentioning that a cholera outbreak started in Kathmandu a couple weeks before the Nepalese contingency arrived in Haiti (see: http://crofsblogs.typepad.com/h5n1/2010/09/nepal-cholera-outbreak-in-kathmandu.html ) and furthermore, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) determined that the current cholera strain is most similar to a cholera strain from South Asia. See: http://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/2010/r101101.html

The United Nations has denied any connection to the spread of the cholera bacteria (see: http://www.prevalhaiti.com/messages.php/24670 ), and has launched an internal investigation. Many observers in Haiti are outraged that the UN thinks it can serve as both judge and jury raising questions about how they will hold themselves accountable if their findings confirm that the source of the outbreak was a UN base. Hundreds of Haitian citizens in Mirebalais protested on October 29 in front of the Nepalese UN base.

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Over the past six years, MINUSTAH has spent more than $3.2 billion to build up the country's security and democracy institutions both which remain in an abysmal state of affairs. Public confidence in the MINUSTAH is at an all time low following a string of controversies in Haiti since 2004. In 2007, the Haitian press reported that more than 100 UN soldiers from Sri Lanka were being sent back to their country for misconduct after "sexual abuse and exploitation" charges were leveled against them. They were returned to Sri Lanka without facing charges in Haiti.

In 2009, MINUSTAH certified senatorial elections rigged by President Preval and his INITE ruling party coalition. Despite a string of evidence pointing to similar efforts to rig the upcoming November 28 elections, the MINUSTAH mission has remained silent. On January 12, they had a complete lack of an effective emergency plan resulting in the death of many UN workers and the collapse of their headquarters. The US military had to step in to provide damage control and emergency response. MINUSTAH has also failed Haitians in the reconstruction process. The reconstruction exercises of the UN through DCSRNP and the PDNA looks more like a bunch of academic exercises than concrete actions to build capacity in-country. As a result of their failed reconstruction efforts, 10 months after the earthquake 1.7 million people are still living in 1,370 makeshift camps that do not meet international standards. In September, a 16-year-old resident of Cap Haitien was killed in a MINUSTAH run camp. MINUSTAH officials made it look like a suicide, but when residents protested a Haitian judge summoned the officials to appear in court. They claimed immunity and refused to appear.

And now to add to the list of problems in the country, it seems their failure to put in place straightforward hygiene measures to prevent epidemic outbreaks has lead to a serious cholera outbreak leaving 411 people dead and 5,010 contaminated. No one knows how long it will take to contain the current epidemic, but questions arise over whether or not holding elections in 27 days will be prudent.

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The UN has a track record of failure in Haiti. The UN leadership should take a serious look at the MINUSTAH mission before more damage is done to our fragile country. Perhaps it is time for the Haitian Government to step up and provide some leadership as well rather than just allowing the UN and other NGOs to operate independently. The UN and international aid organizations have spent more than $11 billion in Haiti over the past two decades with nothing to show for their efforts. It is time to overhaul the MINUSTAH's mission in Haiti and take a closer look at foreign aid in general. For recent cholera outbreak reports see: http://solutionshaiti.blogspot.com/2010/10/cholera-outbreak-status-by-stanley.html

 

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Stanley Lucas is a specialist in political development projects. He has worked as a Senior Program Officer in Afghanistan and the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Lucas is currently the Executive Director for for the Washington Democracy (more...)
 

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