Saturday, February 23, 2013

U.N. Morally Responsible For Cholera Outbreak In Haiti

United Nations

Port-au Prince, Haiti: After the 2010 earthquake, the streets of the neighbourhood of Bel-Air become busier, many of them due to an influx of the homeless. Note the blue-helmeted U.N. peace-keeper in the foreground.
Photo Credit: Marcello Casal Jr/y Agência Brasil, 19 January 2010
Source: Wikipedia

An op-ed piece, by Louise C. Ivers, in the New York Times is right on the mark when it says that the United Nations ought to not only admit responsibility, but also offer compensation for introducing cholera into Haiti, a very poor nation of about 10 million.

The January 2010 earthquake killed 300,00 and left a million homeless; before October 2010, cholera was unknown in that island nation. Poor sanitation conditions at the U.N. camp is responsible for the cholera outbreak
Regardless of the merits of this argument, the United Nations has a moral, if not legal, obligation to help solve a crisis it inadvertently helped start. The evidence shows that the United Nations was largely, though not wholly, responsible for an outbreak of cholera that has subsequently killed some 8,000 Haitians and sickened 646,000 more since October 2010. The United Nations has not acknowledged its culpability.
Now, as the cholera epidemic appears to worsen, Mr. Ban and the United Nations have an opportunity to save thousands of lives, restore good will — and, yes, fulfill the mandate that brought the organization to Haiti in the first place: stabilizing a fragile country. The United Nations should immediately increase its financial support for the Haitian government’s efforts to control the epidemic. While that may not satisfy everyone, it will go at least some way toward compensating the people of Haiti for the unintentional introduction of the bacteria that caused the epidemic.
Before October 2010, cholera — a diarrheal illness caused by consuming water or food contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae — had never been reported in the country. In the epidemic’s first year, the striking loss of life attracted international media attention. Even in its third year, the outbreak continues to sicken thousands.
That the U.N.'s secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, cites "diplomatic immunity" as the reason to reject the claim is a cowardly act and a forceful indication of what ails the U.N., a deeply dysfunctional organization that has lost its way decades ago. It's not the first time the U.N., under a different secretary-general, disowned responsibility for its actions or inaction [think Rwanda]. To say that the U.N. ought to be ashamed of itself would mean that it had some sense of morality; it doesn't.

You can read the rest of the op-ed article at [NYT]


  1. At last this underreported story has received publicity. The most underreported story of all was Israel’s construction of the first field hospitals in Haiti after the earthquake. The major exception was a news item by Frida Ghitis in the Miami Herald (January 22). She reported that the Israeli response was “one of the fastest, most effective of any country on earth.”

    1. Excellent point: Israel, a tiny nation with a big heart and an excellent track record, is always among the first nations to offer aid to anyone, including its enemies, after a natural disaster or man-made disaster. If only the U.N. would act in similar fashion.


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