U.N.'s Cholera Initiative: Underfunded and Unapolagetic

On December 11, the United Nations announced a long overdue initiative to end the cholera epidemic which has devastated Haiti for more than two years—taking over 7,750 lives and infecting 600,000 more. While the announcement by the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is a welcome and much needed step, the ten-year plan is not without controversy.
Kevin Edmonds 12/17/2012

1430 "Photo Credit: Global Post"

On December 11, the United Nations announced a long overdue initiative to end the cholera epidemic which has devastated Haiti for more than two years—taking over 7,750 lives and infecting 600,000 more. While the announcement by the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is a welcome and much needed step, the ten-year plan is not without controversy.

Perhaps most practically, the Initiative for the Elimination of Cholera in the Island of Hispaniola remains largely unfunded. Of the $2.2 billion price tag, only $238.5 million has been committed. The initiative seeks to implement clean water and sanitation infrastructure in addition to public education and capacity building programs throughout both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. When pressed about the lack of funding, Nigel Fisher, the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti could only state that “I'm confident that more resources will come”.

Given that the only half of the $12 billion in pledges for the 2010 earthquake reconstruction effort have materialized or that a $30 million emergency request made earlier in the year only raised one-third of the intended amount, Fisher’s words do not inspire a great deal of confidence that more money is on the way. Furthermore, of the funds that did make it to Haiti after the earthquake, only 10% was directed towards government programs and public infrastructure.

Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, stated that

“It is unclear where the money for this is going to come from, and whether the international community, which has chronically underfunded responses to disasters in Haiti, will treat this any differently, and actually put up the cash to stop needless deaths.”
In addition, Weisbrot put forward a practical solution in order to fund the initiative—by redirecting the money away from the highly controversial and unnecessary United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). While the Secretary General made no mention of this, negligent screening protocols and sanitation practices introduced the cholera outbreak into Haiti. This has been proven through various independent scientific studies, the Center for Disease Control, and numerous high level U.N. staff such as Bill Clinton, and Dr. Danielle Lantagne, top U.S. cholera expert hired by the U.N. In October, Dr. Lantagne stated that "We can now say that the most likely source of the introduction of cholera into Haiti was someone infected with the Nepal strain of cholera and associated with the United Nations Mirabalais camp."

Weisbrot added that “There is no conflict there. The Mission’s $676 million budget should be spent instead on eliminating cholera.” This view has also been widely echoed in Haiti. MINUSTAH is widely considered to be a destabilizing occupying force, and given their consistent human rights violations, they are not popular with either the Haitian people or the politicians. A February Security Council Report argued that Haitian “Parliamentarians shared frank and mostly critical views on MINUSTAH. They called for the mission to compensate cholera victims and to swiftly punish those within MINUSTAH responsible for incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse of Haitians.” A January survey revealed that a large per­cent­age of respon­dents believed that MINUSTAH troops are or have been engaged in crim­i­nal activ­i­ties such as vio­lence, theft, and rape.

At his last address to the United Nations Security Council in April 2011, former President Rene Preval stated that the dangers of violent confrontation in Haiti were over and that “peacekeeping operations did not quickly enough adapt to the new situation”—and as such, tanks should be replaced by bulldozers. While the critique was conveniently made on his way out, Preval still managed to highlight the real source of Haiti’s instability, stating that  "I would suggest some thinking on the effectiveness of (the council's) interventions which have effectively led to 11 years military presence in a country that has no war... Instability in Haiti is basically due to underdevelopment—in other words, unsatisfied elementary socioeconomic rights."

Since the cholera outbreak in October 2010, approximately $2.3 billion has been spent on MINUSTAH (MINUSTAH’s budget for July 2012-June 2013 is $676,707,100. Previously, MINUSTAH’s budget for 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 were $865,313,200 and $810,305,000 respectively).

MINUSTAH has been in Haiti since June 2004, when it took over from the Multinational Interim Force (MIF). The MIF consisted of troops from the United States, Canada, and France, which had been instrumental in orchestrating the coup d’etat which overthrew the democratically elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide on February 29, 2004. As such, MINUSTAH entered Haiti with the permission of an unconstitutional, unelected government and have been destabilizing the country and redirecting resources away from development towards tanks and automatic weapons.  

The continued denial by the U.N. in regards to their role in bringing cholera to Haiti is highly problematic because without taking responsibility, there is no way to ensure that procedures are implemented to make sure that it never happens again elsewhere. By denying their role in the outbreak, the U.N. can attempt to avoid any legal responsibility for the damages and death due to their negligence. At the moment, the U.N. is facing a lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti on behalf of the cholera victims which seeks compensation, the implementation of clean water and sanitation infrastructure, and a public apology. Lastly, the denial slowed down the implementation of the initiative, and the U.N. can now skew history to claim that they solved a massive health crisis which was not of their making.

Perhaps admitting responsibility for cholera would open the door to the many other problems attributed to MINUSTAH, such as its very controversial origins in a foreign sponsored coup or its mandate to suppress Haiti’s democratic movement.  Ban Ki Moon concluded his announcement with an interesting comment, remarking that “The United Nations has a long history in Haiti—many years of partnership in difficult times.” Not surprisingly, the Secretary General forgot to mention their role in creating and compounding the difficult times Haiti now faces.



Kevin Edmonds is a NACLA blogger focusing on the Caribbean. For more from his blog, "The Other Side of Paradise," visit nacla.org/blog/other-side-paradise. Edmonds is a former NACLA research associate and a current PhD student at the University of Toronto, where he is studying the impact of neoliberalism on the St. Lucian banana trade. Follow him on twitter @kevin_edmonds.

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