Letter to Toronto Star: Need for UN accountability on cholera

Vancouver BC
November 22, 2012
Hello Toronto Star editors,
Thank you for the informative article you published today on the exemplary work of the water and sanitation project in Haiti, SOIL.
We read with much interest the article you published several weeks ago profiling Nigel Fisher, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti. You should know there is a very negative experience with the UN Security Council presence in Haiti. Interesting though it was, your published profile of Mr. Fisher made no reference to this.
Mr. Fisher and the UN mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) are failing to seriously acknowledge their critics and to take responsibility for their policies and practices in the country. Easily the most egregious of the Security Council's actions has been its negligence in the catastrophic introduction of the cholera bacteria into Haiti by its soldiers in October 2010. More than 7,600 people have since died. The Security Council has denied responsibility for its negligence and it has stalled in responding to the legal action undertaken against it one year ago by victims of the epidemic. The legal action seeks compensation for the victims and robust assistance in the construction of clean water delivery systems in Haiti.
The official UN position on cholera, for which Mr. Fisher is a leading respondent, has been denial of responsibility. Its response to the legal action has been "no comment" and stalling. This negligence and stalling led the editors of the Boston Globe to publish a significant editorial on Nov. 13 calling the UN to account. I enclose the text and web link of that editorial below.
Your newspaper published an informative news article in July of this year on the cholera epidemic, including news of an important film documentary on the subject that explains the background to the legal action. The documentary and your article report on several interesting connections to the city of Toronto.
The Security Council's egregious conduct in Haiti goes back to the creation of the MINUSTAH police and military mission in June 2004. The essential purpose of the mission has been to maintaining the political status quo created by the violent overthrow by Haitian paramilitaries of Haiti's democratic institutions in February 2004. That status quo includes the ongoing exclusion of political movements representing Haiti's poor majority from formal participation in the country's political life, notably the Fanmi Lavalas party, co-founded by the former president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the mid-1990s.

For your interest, here are two recent articles on cholera and UN accountability in Haiti that I hope you find to be informative:
* Hurricane Sandy is another blow to Haiti, by Roger Annis, on Rabble.ca, Nov 11, 2012
* The United Nations must cure Haiti of the cholera epidemic it caused, By Mark Weisbrot, The Guardian, Nov 11, 2012
In passing, Mr. Fisher's claim in your profile article that 80 per cent of those in the displaced persons camps in Haiti in 2010 have since "gone home" is grossly misleading, but that's another story.
Roger Annis
Haiti Solidarity BC, affiliate of the Canada Haiti Action Network


UN must make amends for cholera that organization brought to Haiti

Editorial, Boston Globe, November 13, 2012

When the international aid community descends on a vulnerable place, the first objective must be to do no harm. But all too often, good intentions make a bad situation even worse. That’s what happened two years ago, when United Nations peacekeepers arrived in Haiti in the wake of a devastating earthquake, bringing the deadly disease cholera with them.

Last year, a panel of UN experts concluded that poor sanitation at the peacekeepers’ camp was the likely cause of a terrible cholera outbreak that has so far killed 7,000 people and sickened 500,000. Their report declined to say whether the peacekeepers, the sanitation contractor, or the UN’s own inadequate health protocols were to blame for human waste getting into Haiti’s water supply. But as cholera deaths continue, new scientific evidence removes all doubt about the source of the disease: The strain of cholera that exploded in Haiti is an exact match to the cholera that exists in Nepal, the UN peacekeepers’ native country.

So far, the United Nations has declined to apologize for its role, or even admit it — perhaps because it is facing a deluge of expensive legal claims brought by the Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti on behalf of the victim’s families. The United Nations legal department has sat on the group’s complaint for nearly a year. The UN says it is still studying the claims.

But foot-dragging is the wrong response. The institute’s foremost demand is not monetary compensation for cholera victims, but UN action to stop the disease from spreading; this would involve a massive investment in clean water and sanitation infrastructure. Such an effort would not just wipe out cholera, but also a host of other water-borne illnesses. Rather than merely get Haiti back to where it was before the outbreak, this effort would push the country ahead.

It is true that such an effort would be expensive; the Institute estimates the cost at about $1.2 billion — about twice what the UN spends on peacekeepers in Haiti each year. Sending UN peacekeepers home ahead of schedule could generate the savings to do this. The UN has a moral responsibility to correct its mistakes in Haiti and to institute simple public health protocols to ensure that peacekeepers who hail from cholera-infected areas never spread the disease again.

[The Boston Globe is a print daily that has been owned by the New York Times since 1993. The paper and its writers have won 21 Pulitzer prizes.]