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Death, water and UN action in Haiti

By Saeed Shabazz -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Feb 14, 2013 - 10:42:41 AM

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Potable water shortage is one of the main problems of the inhabitants of Jacmel, colonial city of 40,000 people 85km south of Port au Prince. People take water from the river and carried by hand to their places walking for kilometers. hoto:unmultimedia.com
UNITED NATIONS (FinalCall.com) - The Center for Economic and Policy Research argued in a recent position paper that “cholera is arguably Haiti’s most urgent humanitarian crisis killing more people every day.”

The Caribbean nation, home to nearly 10 million people, had not seen the dreaded disease for a least a century, but 10-months after the January 2010 earthquake, cholera struck in the central highlands near a camp for UN peacekeepers. However, to date the world body has yet to accept responsibility for its role in spreading cholera, a condition that can quickly lead to severe hydration and death.

Last December UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced a new $2.2 billion initiative to be invested over a 10-year period for cholera prevention, treatment and education. “It will take a holistic approach to tackle the cholera challenge,” the two-term secretary-general said.

“The main focus is on the extension of clean drinking water and sanitation systems,” Mr. Ban added. The UN is chipping in $23 million for a “cholera eradication plan.” A mere one percent of what is needed, according to CEPR.

The Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, a Haiti-based rights organization, filed legal claims against the United Nations on behalf of 5,000 Haitian cholera victims.

“There is a very good chance the UN will be forced to own up to its responsibility,” said Dan Beeton, CEPR international communications director. “The UN continues to say that they have no legal responsibility for the cholera epidemic that killed 7,912 people since its introduction by the Nepalese peacekeepers,” Mr. Beeton told The Final Call, adding, “The UN’s strategy of denial is failing.”

Mr. Beeton said the UN has spent $1.9 billion on the troops that brought the cholera to Haiti.

The CEPR report notes the response to the epidemic continues to decrease. “From August of 2011 to August of 2012 the number of cholera treatment centers has decreased from 38 to 20, while the number of treatment units has decreased from 205 to 71,” according to CEPR.

The think tank quotes a health expert as saying while the number of cases and deaths were lower the last three months of 2012 than the previous year, “2013 could be worse than 2012.”

Many Haitians on the ground want to see water and sanitation brought up to standard now, not in 10 years, Mr. Beeton said. “Respecting Haitian human rights is an uphill battle,” he added.

In A Rights-Based Approach to disaster Response in Haiti, a position paper published in the Emory University Law Review, authors Brian Concannon, Jr., a human rights attorney and IDJH executive director and Beatrice Linstrom of Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, argue “a successful disaster response must place human rights at the center.”

“Haiti’s recent disasters are not only natural, but also stem from systemic human rights violations that must be addressed,” the paper states. “If Haiti is to see a different future, the international community must actively implement a rights-based approach to its interventions and programming in Haiti,” said the authors.

Mr. Concannon and Ms. Lindstrom see the cholera outbreak are only the most recent and urgent symptom of a larger and ongoing violation of the right to water in Haiti. According to the United Nations, the right to water entitles an individual to water that is sufficient in quantity, safe in quality, acceptable in taste and odor, physically accessible, avoidable, and affordable.

The Emory Law Review paper notes that a July 2010 UN General Assembly resolution recognizes the right to water and sanitation as a separate human right “that is essential for the full enjoyment of life.”

The authors concluded: “The UN’s negligent waste management in an environment already vulnerable to water-borne disease has led to an arbitrary deprivation of life for thousands of Haitians and amounts to a gross violation of human rights.”

“We are aware of the Emory Law Review paper,” said Attorney Roger Wareham of the Brooklyn-based December 12th Movement.

Last summer, the group traveled to The Hague with a petition that was presented to the International Court of Justice demanding that the court consider indicting the UN for violations of Haitian human rights based on the actions of the UN Mission in Haiti, which known by its French acronym MINUSTAH. The December 12th Movement charges the peacekeepers are an illegal occupying force.

“The question of the UN’s complicity in the spreading of cholera will be added to our petition when we return to The Hague,” Mr. Wareham told The Final Call. “We want the court to examine the UN’s negligence that has led to the deaths in Haiti.”

Related news:

Nation of Islam purchases water purification unit for Haiti (FCN, 01-11-2011)

A concrete way to provide long-term support for Haiti (FCN, 11-17-2010)

Fears UN caused cholera outbreak in rural Haiti (FCN, 11-13-2010)

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