UN chief steps up fight against Haiti cholera epidemic

Ban Ki-moon calls for $2.2bn to help eradicate epidemic as row over UN's role in introducing cholera to Haiti rumbles on

The UN secretary general has flown to Haiti on a "necessary pilgrimage" to support the fight against cholera, a disease that many Haitians blame UN peacekeepers for introducing to the Caribbean country.

Ban Ki-moon is seeking support for a $2.2bn, 10-year cholera elimination campaign that he launched in December 2012 with the presidents of Haiti and the neighbouring Dominican Republic.

"I know that the epidemic has caused much anger and fear. I know that the disease continues to affect an unacceptable number of people," he told parishioners at a church service in Los Palmas. "My wife and I have come here to grieve with you. As a father and grandfather, and as a mother and grandmother, we feel tremendous anguish at the pain you have had to endure."

The UN has not accepted responsibility for the cholera epidemic that has killed 8,500 people and infected more than 700,000 since October 2010, despite evidence that suggests it was brought to Haiti by Nepalese peacekeepers stationed near a major river.

Ban's visit was criticised by some in Haiti who said the UN must accept responsibility for introducing the disease and provide compensation to families. "It is an insult to all Haitians for the secretary general to come to Haiti for a photo opportunity when he refuses to take responsibility for the thousands of Haitians killed and the hundreds of thousands sickened by the UN cholera epidemic," said Mario Joseph, a Haitian human rights lawyer.

Cholera, which had not been documented in Haiti in almost 100 years prior to the outbreak, is an infection that causes severe diarrhoea that can lead to dehydration and death, and is caused by poor sanitation.

Donors had been slow to respond to the initial cholera elimination campaign, Ban told the Miami Herald newspaper, adding that the UN had struggled to raise an initial $400m needed in the first two years.

Lawyers have filed three lawsuits against the UN seeking compensation for Haitian victims of the epidemic. The Nepalese troops were stationed near a tributary of the Artibonite river and discharged raw sewage that carried a strain of cholera, sparking the outbreak, the lawsuit said.

An independent panel appointed by Ban to study the epidemic issued a report in 2011 that did not determine conclusively how the cholera was introduced to Haiti. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said evidence strongly suggested UN peacekeepers from Nepal were the source.

Some senior UN officials, including the human rights chief Navi Pillay, have said Haiti's cholera victims should be compensated.

Together with Haiti's prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, Ban also launched a sanitation campaign, noting that one in two Haitians lack access to adequate sanitation systems.

The scheme seeks to train people to build latrines, as well as installing water filter systems in schools, health centres and markets. The UN and the World Bank are targeting 55 communities worst affected by cholera, covering 3.8 million people within the next five years.

Staff and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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