News Release

Cholera in Haiti: Responsibility and Resurgence


AP is reporting this afternoon: “The United Nations says Haiti has seen a jump in the number of cholera cases as the rainy season begins. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says in a bulletin released Tuesday that the new cholera cases were found in western Haiti.”

On Monday The New York Times featured a piece noting that in the last 17 months “cholera has killed more than 7,050 Haitians and sickened more than 531,000, or 5 percent of the population. Lightning fast and virulent, it spread from here through every Haitian state, erupting into the world’s largest cholera epidemic despite a huge international mobilization still dealing with the effects of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake. The world rallied to confront cholera, too, but the mission was muddled by the United Nations’ apparent role in igniting the epidemic and its unwillingness to acknowledge it. …”

See the new six-minute minidocumentary “Cholera in Haiti.”

Joseph and Concannon manage affiliated groups in Haiti and the U.S. that have been noting the UN failure regarding cholera since shortly after the outbreak, and they are now sounding the alarm that criticism is being limited to the outbreak. “Haiti’s cholera epidemic is not simply an unfortunate accident followed by bungling by the international community” said Joseph, managing attorney for the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux in Haiti, the lead attorney for the cholera victims in their suit against the UN. “It is a failure by the UN to obey the law in maintaining its sewage treatment, followed by a refusal to bear the clear legal responsibility for its law-breaking. This is a textbook example of the dangers of impunity. Only an institution with no fear of consequences could have acted so recklessly with such dangerous bacteria.”

“The UN’s excuse for standing by while cholera victims die — that other factors caused the cholera introduced by the UN to spread throughout Haiti — would be laughed out of court, except that the UN makes sure that it is never brought to any court for the wrongful acts of its missions,” said Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, which also represents the cholera victims. “The UN’s holding itself above the law deeply subverts its mission of promoting the rule of law, in Haiti and throughout the world.” (Joseph, who is in Haiti, may be available for a limited number of interviews via Concannon.)

MARK WEISBROT, via Dan Beeton, beeton at
Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which put out a statement today warning “Cholera infections are rising again with rainy weather in Haiti in a predictable seasonal shift, and the international community must act quickly to contain the epidemic.” The group cited Monday’s New York Times report about “how cholera resurged during the 2011 rainy season after NGOs pulled back their treatment and prevention efforts during the dry season months.”

“Part of cholera prevention is ensuring access to clean water and sanitation,” Weisbrot said. “But as everyone knows, Haiti’s internally displaced persons — among many others — are a long way from having access to these necessities. In many camps there is no money going to empty latrines, going on months now. Sanitation does not exist in such situations — but disease thrives.”

Earlier this month, Bill Clinton, UN Special Envoy to Haiti, finally began acknowledging the UN role in cholera in Haiti. “Clinton: UN Soldier Brought Cholera to Haiti.”