Critics of the agency say that the U.N.’s failure to take responsibility for the outbreak has been a public relations nightmare and an insult to the people of Haiti.
The outbreak began in October of 2010. At that time, cholera hadn’t been reported in Haiti in more than 100 years.
Several investigations including by the U.N. itself have linked the outbreak to sewage from a base for Nepalese peacekeepers, who were part of an ongoing mission. The troops had recently arrived in Haiti. Witnesses reported seeing overflowing toilets at the base spilling waste into a local stream. The strain of cholera that erupted in Haiti was very similar to a strain of the bacteria circulating at the time in Nepal.
Cholera causes intense vomiting and diarrhea. The patient loses so much fluid so quickly that the disease can prove fatal in a matter of days.
The disease spreads when feces from an infected person contaminates drinking water. Once cholera got a foothold in Haiti, it ran rampant in the country’s open sewers and untreated water supplies.
For years Haitians have been blaming the U.N. for this outbreak, even spraying painting “UN=Kolera” on the walls of the peacekeeping base. The U.N. has denied responsibility.
The U.N.’s refusal to accept responsibility for sparking the outbreak led to violent protests in the streets of Port au Prince in 2010 and stoked distrust between Haitians and the troops that are supposed to be helping them.
Now a spokesman for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says the U.N. may be about to shift its position. Speaking to reporters at a press briefing from U.N. headquarters in New York on Thursday, Farhan Haq said the U.N. “needs to do much more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak.”
“What we are doing is trying to see how this can be resolved,” Haq …