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UN vows aid for Haiti cholera victims

August 20, 2016

The United Nations has admitted it played a role in introducing cholera to Haiti and plans to give "material" aid to victims. More than 9,300 Haitians have died of the disease since 2010.

Cholera patient in Haiti
Image: Reuters/Andres Martinez Casares

Friday's statement was the first time the United Nations has pledged direct financial aid to victims of the epidemic, which first broke out near a UN peacekeepers' base a few months after Haiti was struck by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in January 2010.

Farhan Haq, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, admitted that the world body had a "moral responsibility to the victims," referring to the 9,300 people killed and roughly 800,000 sickened by cholera on the Caribbean island.

Compensation soon

Haq said Ban was developing a package that would provide "material assistance" to cholera victims and their families.

The announcement came a day after the UN acknowledged it had played a role in the deadly epidemic in the poorest country in the Americas.

For years, the New York-headquartered body had denied or been silent on longstanding allegations that it was responsible for the outbreak, while answering lawsuits in US courts by claiming immunity under a 1946 convention.

Victims still angry

While the number of cholera cases has been significantly reduced from the initial outbreak, the fact that the preventable disease is still routinely sickening and killing Haitians is galling to many.

Haiti Earthquake
More than 160,000 people died in the 2010 earthquakeImage: C. Somodevilla/Getty Images

"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," said Michelle Raymond, who said her young son nearly died of the waterborne disease in 2013.

Another Haitian, Gerda Blot, said she and her daughter were hospitalized for several days in 2014 after drinking tainted water.

"I spent a lot of savings getting well. And I know it is still out there, that cholera disease," she said outside her plywood and sheet-metal home.

UN link proved

Researchers say there is ample scientific evidence the disease was introduced to Haiti's biggest river by inadequately treated sewage from a base of UN peacekeepers from Nepal, one of the units that have rotated in and out of a multinational force in Haiti since 2004.

Cholera is caused by bacteria that produces severe diarrhea and is contracted by eating or drinking contaminated food or water. It can lead to a rapid, painful death through complete dehydration, but is easily treatable if caught in time.

In a report earlier this month, French epidemiologist Roland Piarroux found more than 21,000 cases and 200 deaths took place from January to June this year.

"With a rainy season that will last through November or possibly December, we worry that cholera will be especially deadly this year, easily killing 400 or 500 people," he added.

mm/ tj (AP, AFP)