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Unease over UN bid to eradicate Haiti cholera

Fears that $2.2bn programme may fall short on funding and deflect pressure on UN to apologise for introducing disease.
Last modified: 12 Dec 2012 20:48

The UN has launched a new initiative aimed at tackling cholera in Haiti. But the programme falls short of what many had hoped for.

The new programme dedicates $215m from donors along with $23.5m from UN funds towards programmes in public health, capacity building, public education, and clean water systems. It will be part of a larger ten-year $2.2bn programme between Haiti and the neighbouring Dominican Republic to eradicate cholera from the island of Hispaniola.

"We know the elimination of cholera is possible," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the initiative’s launch on Tuesday. "It has happened in difficult environments around the world. It can and will happen in Haiti."

Cholera was introduced to Haiti in October 2010 and has since killed about 7,750 and infected more than 600,000 people.

"With this new initiative, we will eradicate and remove once and for all the consequences and negatives effects of cholera on the Island of Hispaniola," said Lorenzo Hidalgo, the Minister of Health of the Dominican Republic. 

But there are concerns by some diplomats and UN observers that the funds necessary for the programme would not be forthcoming from donors.

"The humanitarian funding is already running out," said Jake Johnston of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. "What's to give anyone faith that these funds will come through?" 

Haiti will need $500m over the next two years for its own national cholera plan. The funds allocated in the programme would therefore cover only one year.

UN diplomats told me that the launch of the initiative is meant to reinvigorate the humanitarian effort to tackle cholera, and send a strong signal to donors.

"I'm confident that more resources will come," Nigel Fisher, the deputy head of the UN mission in Haiti, told reporters on Tuesday.  

"As we move forward with this, we will indeed see the elimination of cholera."

Additionally, some UN observers fear that the plan will deflect international pressure on the UN to take responsibility for introducing the deadly disease.

Numerous studies - including internal investigations by the UN itself - indicate that cholera was brought in by Nepalese peacekeeping troops. Yet the international body has yet to formally take the blame.

"A just response requires allowing past victims of the UN cholera and their survivors their day in court, to seek justice for their loss of loved ones, income, property and educational opportunities," said Brian Concannon, Director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, which has launched a lawsuit against the UN on behalf of the families of 5,000 cholera victims.

More than 6,700 people have signed an online petition launched last week by filmmaker Oliver Stone, calling for the UN to take responsibility.