UN admits complicity in Haiti cholera outbreak

August 20, 2016 9:00 am

Farhan Haq, a spokesman for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

The has acknowledged for the first time that it is to blame for a cholera epidemic that killed thousands in  after a major earthquake jolted the Caribbean country in 2010.
The UN chief’s spokesman Farhan Haq said on Friday the body has now a “moral responsibility” to give “material” aid to cholera victims, estimated at more than 800,000 people.
For years the UN had denied or been silent on longstanding allegations that it was responsible for the outbreak. 
Researchers say there is ample evidence that cholera was introduced to Haiti’s biggest river in October 2010 by inadequately treated sewage from a UN peacekeeping base.
US courts have consistently held the UN, headquartered in New York, immune from lawsuits over the cholera epidemic that has killed 10,000 people since it broke out in 2010.
Even as the UN acknowledged its “own involvement” in the cholera outbreak, a US federal appeals panel in New York upheld immunity for the international body in a decision issued late Thursday.
Lawmakers of the victims, nonetheless, claimed victory.
“This is a major victory for the thousands of Haitians who have been marching for justice, writing to the UN and bringing the UN to court,” said Mario Joseph, a Haitian human rights attorney.
His law firm has led a high-profile claim on behalf of 5,000 cholera victims who blame the UN for introducing the disease.

Haitian human rights activists and victims of cholera rally in front of the UN Stabilization Mission in the capital, Port-au-Prince, on October 15, 2015, to demand justice and reparation. ©AFP

Michelle Raymond, whose young son died of the waterborne disease in 2013, said, “The UN brought this sickness to Haiti so they need to pay the country back. A lot of people got sick, a lot have died.”
Haq said UN chief Ban Ki-moon deeply regrets the suffering of the Haitians.
“Over the past year, the UN has become convinced that it needs to do much more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak and the suffering of those affected by cholera,” Haq said.

Patients rest on stretchers in the Cholera Treatment Center of Diquini in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, May 28, 2016. ©Reuters

The cholera outbreak in Haiti showed up some 10 months after a devastating earthquake that killed 220,000.
The infection still flares up intermittently and continues to kill people in Haiti six years after the disease was first seen there.
Cholera is caused by bacteria that produces diarrhea and is contracted by eating or drinking contaminated food or water. The disease can lead to death through complete dehydration, but is easily treatable if caught in time.
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