Scientists have long condemned the United Nations for the cholera outbreak, but recently, General Ban Ki-moon announced that the intergovernmental organization performed a role in the outbreak that started nearly six years ago. He stated that the organization needs to take action to correct the problem it triggered.
In January 2010, a horrible earthquake killed around 100,000 and 316,000 people and displaced an estimated three million citizens of Haiti. Nearly ten months later, what would convert into the world’s worst cholera epidemic in modern times, punished Haiti sickening an estimated 800,000 people and killing more that 10,000.
Before the cholera outbreak that began in October 2010, the disease had not been documented in Haiti and had been excluded from much of the Western Hemisphere.
People started to believe that due to the proximity in time of the two events, the cholera outbreak has been triggered by the earthquake. However, researchers believe that the outbreak would have needed the preexisting presence of the Vibrio cholerae bacterium. It was the first time in 100 years that cholera has hit Haiti.
The bacterial disease spreads through contaminated food or water and can expand rapidly in areas with inadequately treated sewage. Symptoms could include vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration.
The Haitians quickly suspected the UN peacekeepers as having moved the disease with them to Haiti. This UN personnel evacuated their contaminated waste into an important river in a country that isn’t equipped with working sewers and its sanitation infrastructure is at best, temporary.
Despite all the evidence in the months that followed the cholera outbreak and then all the studies that followed the bacterial strain of cholera as being comparable to the strain in Nepal, the United Nations denied having played a role until now.
The office of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had admitted that the UN had a major role in the initial outbreak and that significant actions are needed to respond to the crisis. Nevertheless, the UN’s legal position on diplomatic immunity and potential compensation has not changed.
While the UN stopped short of declaring it caused the epidemic, its recognition of some responsibility was embraced by lawyers representing Haitian cholera victims.
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Image source: Wikipedia