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“Cholera is a crime against humanity!”

publié le 19 août 2013 à 19:00 par Junia Barreau   [ mis à jour : 11 sept. 2013 à 11:43 ]

-The United Nations’ Shameful History in Haiti

--19 août 2013 , par Charanya Krishnaswami --

Haiti Cholera epidemic“Haiti”—the very word conjures images of inevitable poverty and tragedy. The nation has been so spectacularly blighted—by war, by natural disasters, by disease—that insidious whispers still echo that some ancient curse was cast upon Haiti. After all, what else could possibly explain the extraordinary misfortune of a country that, just months after a catastrophic earthquake in 2010, was ravaged by a deadly cholera epidemic?  

In reality, cholera was anything but inevitable. It is a manmade curse, visited on the country not by acts of God but by the grossly negligent behavior of the very people charged with protecting and stabilizing Haiti. The disease had been unknown in Haiti for more than a century. In October 2010, United Nations peacekeepers leaked cholera-infected fecal waste into a tributary of Haiti’s largest river—the same river countless Haitians use for bathing, cooking, and drinking. Eight thousand Haitians have died as a result, and counting. The number spiked as recently as spring of 2013 during Haiti’s wet season.

The United Nations’ responsibility for the outbreak has been confirmed in study after study. Epidemiological research shows that a combination of inadequate screening of peacekeepers from Nepal—where cholera is endemic—and poor sanitation practices at the U.N. base in central Haiti caused the outbreak. Microbiological studies demonstrate that the strain of cholera that seeped into Haiti’s waters perfectly matches the strain of cholera prevalent in South Asia.

Last week, a team of researchers (including myself) from the Transnational Development Clinic at Yale Law School and the Global Health Justice Partnership between the law school and Yale School of Public Health published a report concluding not only that the U.N. brought cholera to Haiti, but that by failing to take responsibility for its role in the outbreak, the United Nations violates both its contractual commitments to Haiti as well as its obligations under international law.

However, even in the face of irrefutable evidence, the U.N. continues to deny its role. Previously, the organization rejected claims for relief from more than 5,000 cholera victims, simply declaring that the claims were “not receivable.” This week, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky responded to renewed calls for accountability by asking the international community to donate money to help Haiti recover from the “double tragedy of earthquake and cholera” while saying nothing about the part the U.N. played in visiting this tragedy upon the country in the first place.

This response is shameful. The cholera epidemic is undoubtedly a tragedy of massive proportions. But by painting the earthquake and the epidemic with the same brushstroke, the U.N. plays into a dangerous conception of Haiti as pathology: a country that brings disease upon itself. This rhetoric is rooted in notions of disaster’s inevitability in Haiti, as though the cholera epidemic is just another manifestation of the ancient curse that has purportedly gripped the country since the days of Toussaint L’Ouverture.