“For I was…thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…I was sick and you took care of me…” –Matthew 25:35-36
Water is a source of life—an essential component of any community’s health and well-being. But what do people do when the water they rely on becomes a source of sickness and death?
In mid-October 2010, the worst cholera epidemic in the world erupted in Haiti. Numerous scientists, including a panel of experts appointed by the United Nations (U.N.), documented that U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti introduced cholera by improperly disposing of contaminated sewage into the country’s largest river. Before 2010, not a single life had been lost to cholera in Haiti. In the last five years, 8,847 people have died, and more than 746,000 have fallen ill.
While cases of cholera declined last year, trends reversed in 2015 and cases spiked early in the year. A stewing migration crisis at the border, precipitated by the Dominican Republic’s deportation of Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent, has led to the formation of neglected tent camps across their shared border. Fears were confirmed this week when the first recorded cases of cholera were seen in these camps.
Despite the ongoing human toll, other pressing humanitarian crises in Haiti and abroad have diverted media attention and funding from cholera prevention, treatment and infrastructure investment. The U.N. has only been able to raise 18 percent of needed funds for its 10-year cholera elimination plan. Adding insult to injury, the U.N. has never publicly acknowledged its role in introducing cholera, offered an apology to victims, or been willing to hear their claims for reparations.
In an effort to draw new attention to the plight of cholera victims, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) partnered with InsideOut and several other Haitian and U.S.-based organizations to create the FACE|JUSTICE campaign. FACE|JUSTICE brings cholera victims’ faces and stories before U.N. leaders to make them confront victims’ continued suffering and encourage a more just response. Stunning images of victims were printed on large posters and hung across from UN facilities in Port-au-Prince, New York, and Geneva.
As Olivia Jean-Pierre, mother of two cholera survivors and one of the featured faces of the campaign, notes: “For four years I’ve been marching, seeking justice and reparations alongside other cholera victims. But these efforts haven’t yet succeeded.”
What exactly would a just response look like? Victims have stated clearly that it would mean the U.N. lives up to its promise to bring clean water and sanitation to Haiti and ensures that all have access to medical care; provides reparations for victims who have suffered from cholera and lost their loved ones; and publicly accepts responsibility for bringing cholera to Haiti, including a formal apology to victims.
In concert with U.N. responsibility, there is a need for the governments of Haiti and the United States to make cholera reduction and eradication a priority. The U.S. government has a strong influence in Haitian policy, and putting cholera back on the agenda would speak volumes to the Haitian population clamoring for justice. It is time the international community that purports to care deeply for Haiti’s well-being renew efforts to eliminate cholera and ensure access to clean water for all Haitians.
MCC is encouraging people to take action and sign a petition that calls for clean water in Haiti.
Charissa Zehr is Legislative Associate for International Affairs in the MCC U.S. Washington Office. Originially published on November 26, 2015. Reprinted with permission from PeaceSigns.