Posts tagged united nations

3 Notes

Worst Logic of the Year, Cholera Division

Nigel Fisher, United Nations Resident & Humanitarian Coordinator, January 2012:

"As you know, more than 6,700* Haitians have succumbed to the cholera epidemic so far and almost 500,000* have been infected. If we can take any encouragement, it is that: National cholera response and alert systems are now in place in a country that had no such infrastructure before the cholera outbreak….”

The reason Haiti had no national cholera response and alert system in place was that there was no cholera. In fact there had never been a laboratory-confirmed case of cholera in Haiti, ever, until it appeared in October 2010, almost certainly introduced by United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal.

Please no one set up a national bubonic plague response system.


* As of April 2012, the official death toll is 7,091 and case load over 534,000.

UPDATE 5/13/12: 

Fisher made a more important statement earlier this month in an interview posted by the UN News Centre:

"As humanitarian actors facing cholera, what we are doing is sort of patchwork, band-aid work on a fundamental problem. The fundamental problem is when cholera broke in Haiti there was no experience of it and the conditions were ripe for it to spread quickly.*"

Instead, he called for:

"… a massive investment in everything, from food hygiene to water and sanitation to education. It’s long-term and we are working out the details of that."

Those comments were cited in an editorial which ran in this morning’s Sunday New York Times, which did something Fisher still will not — put them in context of the direct responsibility Fisher’s own organization has for creating the mess in the first place:

"The United Nations bears heavy responsibility for the outbreak: its own peacekeepers introduced the disease through sewage leaks at one their encampments."

The Times editorial cites a CDC estimate that putting in adequate water and sanitation systems will cost $800 million to $1 billion. That would exceed the Haitian government’s one-year revenues, but is commensurate with the UN peacekeeping mission’s annual budget.

Stay tuned.


Fisher quote h/t @HaitiJustice

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Cholera in Haiti

Bill Clinton

The saga of the U.N. and cholera keeps unfolding. Today’s episode: Bill Clinton.

In response to a question from blogger Ansel Herz, the former president and U.N. Special Envoy to Haiti presented as a point of fact that U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal introduced the infection. This is pretty bold for someone with a high-flying U.N. title, and rightfully getting attention on the Haiti Twitter Webs.

But what really grabs me in this audio (provided by Herz on Sharebeast) is how Clinton plays the question, raised somewhat obliquely by US permanent representative Susan Rice on Feb. 28, about whether anyone will be held accountable.

Clinton’s short answer is “No.” His longer answer is: “No, but maybe next time”: 

"I can’t recall ever until this cholera outbreak hit people even asking: Did these people come from a place where they have a lot of cholera or malaria or you name it, and are we sending them to a place where they don’t have that, and therefore, almost by accident, we could start an epidemic …?

And I have to tell you — at least I had never thought about it before. And insofar as I would have any influence over continuing United Nations operations it’s one question that I think that will always be asked from now on. I feel terrible about what happened here. I was moved by the response … but I don’t think this was a deliberate callous disregard for the lives of the people of Haiti. I think they had never thought about this before. And I think now, all over the world, every time there is a deployment of people from one part of the world to another, people will be asking this question.”

This echoes the U.N. panel report of May 2011, which gave a searing indictment of the peacekeepers, then avoided singling them out in a critical line of the conclusion, yet then recommended that the U.N. change its rules so what they did never happens again.

It’s basically a safe, nuanced (Clintonesque?) way of handling the problem. Making sure such an event doesn’t happen elsewhere, or again in Haiti, is certainly part of the issue. But would it even be possible to prevent such future disasters if no one is held accountable for this one? One thing I’m sure of: Clinton’s comments may re-open this conversation, but they won’t appease the lawyers who have drafted a lawsuit against the U.N. on behalf of cholera victims, nor the people who just want MINUSTAH to go.

(audio: mediahacker.org; photo: jmk)