December 13, 2012 Mark Weisbrot / Al Jazeera & RYOT: Become the News
More than two years and nearly 7,800 deaths after UN troops brought the dread disease of cholera to Haiti, a plan has finally been put forward to do something to get rid of it. While we are still a long way from implementation, there are important lessons to be learned from this experience.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (December 12, 2012) -- More than two years and nearly 7,800 deaths after UN troops brought the dread disease of cholera to Haiti, a plan has finally been put forward to do something to get rid of it. While we are still a long way from implementation, there are important lessons to be learned from this experience.
Perhaps most importantly, it shows that organised political pressure can work. There have been protests from many thousands of Haitians, and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti went to the UN to file for damages and reparations. Many other groups and individuals kept the issue in the news and wouldn't let it go away, as much as the UN and powerful governments wanted it to disappear.
Newspaper editorial boards such as those of the New York Times and the Boston Globe called on the UN to take responsibility for the disaster that it caused. As a result of grassroots organising, the majority of Democrats in the US House of Representatives signed a letter to the same effect.
Still, the UN has continued to deny its responsibility despite conclusive scientific and forensic evidence that its troops had brought the disease from South Asia, and transmitted it by dumping human waste into a tributary of Haiti's main water supply. This was gross negligence of the highest order.
Lack of Clean Water and Sanitation
Haiti is especially vulnerable to this type of a water-borne disease because of its lack of clean water and sanitation. Troops coming from areas where cholera was present should have been adequately screened and tested, and of course there is no excuse for their reckless disregard in polluting the Artibonite river with the deadly bacteria.
In March of this year, Bill Clinton, UN Special Envoy to Haiti, admitted that the UN military mission was responsible for the deadly outbreak, but the organisation maintains its denial.
Tuesday's announcement by the governments of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, together with the UN, of a 10-year plan to eradicate cholera from the island shared by the two nations is a step forward, and a result of all the pressure that has been brought to bear over the past two years. Better late than never, but it is still just the beginning.
In the first place, the plan is much too slow. This is an ongoing national health emergency: about 700 people have been killed by cholera just since the first rains began in April, 167 of them since Hurricane Sandy caused widespread flooding. But this is a 10- year plan. We are still looking at several years before serious work begins to provide Haiti with the clean drinking water and sanitation needed to get rid of cholera.
According to the most recent data from the World Bank, only 69 percent have access to "improved drinking water" and just 17 percent have access to "improved sanitation", defined in the plan as "flush toilets, septic tanks, ventilated improved pit latrines and composting toilets".
Among the poorest 20 percent, only 1 percent has access to improved water and more than 90 percent "practice open air defecation". The necessary infrastructure work should begin immediately, not years from now.
Haiti is a very small country, smaller than the state of Maryland, with 10 million people. There is no civil war or violence that would prevent or delay the construction of water and sanitation facilities. The two-year delay in even announcing a plan has been tremendously costly in human lives; this plan needs to be implemented immediately and much faster than it appears to be scheduled for.
No Funds to Treat Affected People
Meanwhile, even the funds for treatment of people with cholera are lacking. One of the most important non-governmental organisations in Haiti, Partners in Health, says that its US funding for cholera treatment runs out in February.
In 2012, the UN requested just $30 million for cholera treatment, yet only 34 percent of this has been raised. There were 205 cholera treatment units and 61 cholera treatment centres last August; by June, these had fallen to 38 and 17, respectively.
And that is perhaps the biggest problem: for all the talk of "building back better" after the earthquake nearly three years ago, very little has been delivered. Of $5.3bn pledged by governments to help Haiti, just $2.8bn (53 percent) has been disbursed. (For the US, it is $250 million of $900 million pledged, or just 28 percent.)
So now we have the UN once again putting its hand out for money, for a 10-year plan to deal with a national emergency that has not even been nearly adequately dealt with over the last two years, with treatment facilities two years in a row closed just before the rainy season caused a spike in cholera infections. It is not a promising track record; rather a track record of broken promises.
With that in mind, thousands of people around the world have already signed a petition -- initiated late last week by film director Oliver Stone -- to keep up the pressure to accelerate this project and make sure that it actually happens. It's the least that the international community can do, after all of the suffering it has inflicted on Haiti in recent years as well as centuries: just clean up some of their own mess.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Washington, DC. He is also President of Just Foreign Policy.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
LOS ANGELES, CA (December 13, 2012) – Pressure on the United Nations to take action to fight cholera in Haiti reached a tipping point today thanks to a grassroots activism campaign lead by the US-based organization RYOT and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.
The #UNDENY campaign shed light, gathered momentum and gained celebrity support pushing the United Nations to take responsibility for an epidemic raging out of control.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced today an anti-cholera initiative aimed at raising money to eliminate the disease in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Initially, $215 million in existing funds from bilateral and multilateral donors will be used to support the initiative.
Celebrities and high-profile individuals who viewed the film, such as Olivia Wilde and Elon Musk (producers of the film Baseball in the Time of Cholera), Ben Stiller, Maria Bello, Patricia Arquette, Oliver Stone, Rainn Wilson, Danny Glover and Incubus lead singer Brandon Boyd along with dozens of others, helped create a social media maelstrom that launched #UNDENY to the Top 5 Twitter trending hashtags in July and garnered the film nearly 300,000 views online.
Cholera arrived in Haiti just a few months after the earthquake in 2010, and strong evidence shows that UN peacekeepers brought the disease to the island. President Bill Clinton acknowledged that UN soldiers were the "proximate cause" of the cholera, major publications such as The Economist, New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Huffington Post and dozens of celebrities and cause experts have laid the blame on the UN, however, UN officials have yet to take any blame or issue an apology.
The World Premiere of the RYOT film Baseball in the Time of Cholera at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in July, 2012 was the first major step in the grassroots advocacy campaign “UNDENY” that exposed the UN’s role in the cholera epidemic and led to the announcement today. The film follows the cholera outbreak through the lives of Haiti’s first Little League baseball team, portraying the disaster as a major UN scandal.
Baseball in the Time of Cholera and UNDENY gained further traction after screenings on Capitol Hill and in London at the Olympic games: 104 members of Congress signed an official letter to Ambassador Susan Rice, urging the UN to take responsibility and take action to prevent further damage, and Esquire Magazine featured the film and RYOT co-founders Bryn Mooser and David Darg as 2012 Americans of the Year.
“It is great to see the power of the people at work, with the power of social media the world is watching much closer and speaking louder” Said Bryn Mooser, one of RYOT’s co-founders. “The UNDENY project of RYOT’s is a true indicator of the power of a grassroots, social media movement to drive change and force the writers of history to address -- if not take full responsibility for -- their actions.”
“This is the reason we founded RYOT,” added co-founder David Darg. “Martin Luther King said, ’A riot is the language of the unheard,’ and it is our goal through RYOT to give a voice to the voiceless.”
Although there is no explicit mention of the cause of the cholera outbreak in the UN press announcement, by launching this cholera initiative, they are implicitly noting their responsibility in the epidemic. RYOT’s Baseball in the Time of Cholera and UNDENY campaign palyed a vital role in forcing the UN’s hand.
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BASEBALL IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA
As a Cholera epidemic rages in Haiti, the United Nations denies it is responsible for introducing the disease despite glaring evidence suggesting Nepalese peacekeepers are to blame. Baseball in the Time of Cholera is the story of a young Haitian boy who plays in Haiti's first little league baseball team and the Haitian Lawyer seeking justice against the UN. As the epidemic spreads, the two stories intersect in the struggle for survival and justice. The film Baseball in the Time of Cholerahas over 250,000 views on Youtube, watch it here
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