Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is calling on the United Nations (UN) to immediately fund and implement sanitation projects to eliminate cholera in Haiti, following the global organization’s recent admission of guilt in the 2010 outbreak of the disease.
The need is especially urgent in the wake of Hurricane Matthew that pummeled the country on Oct. 4 because cholera is primarily a waterborne disease that spreads quickly in areas of poor sanitation. More than 3,500 suspected cholera cases have been reported in Haiti by the UN since the storm.
MCC photo/Paul Fast
UN troops introduced cholera to Haiti in 2010, when contaminated waste from a UN peacekeeper camp on the edge of the Artibonite Department was discharged into Haiti’s main waterway. Official records suggest the epidemic has killed 10,000 people and made more than 800,000 ill. However, prior to 2010, not a single life had been lost to the disease.
“There needs to be a serious effort to address the water and sanitation problems in Haiti,” said Katharine Oswald, a policy analyst and advocacy coordinator with MCC Haiti. “That’s a tangible way for the UN to respond to the problem.”
MCC photo/Doug Hostetter
Even as MCC urges the UN to act, MCC is doing its own work to prevent cholera in the wake of the hurricane by building latrines in eight communities in the Artibonite Department, a region of Haiti that remains a stronghold of cholera transmission.
In August, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon formally admitted that the UN played a role in this outbreak, a change from the last six years when UN leadership systematically denied any involvement or responsibility.
According to Oswald, this admission is a big step. “The minute you own up to something you have to take responsibility for it. That’s why it’s so significant,” Oswald said.
Following the admission of guilt, the UN promised to release an action plan on how to respond to the epidemic by the end of November. However, because previous promises by the UN to improve sanitation in Haiti have gone unfunded, Oswald says organizations, including MCC, are putting more pressure on the UN to release and implement the plan quickly.
Improved sanitation in the country could have real-life implications for people on the ground – people like Cadet Gary, from Côte Plage, Carrefour in Haiti, one of the people featured in a web and social media campaign called FACE|JUSTICE. Gary’s baby son became violently ill with cholera, and as Gary waited at his bedside, he fell ill as well.
“I am a strong man in body and spirit, but after a day in this condition, I lost control of my body. I couldn’t take the oral hydration solution, and I was sure I was going to die,” Gary said. He and his son survived after a difficult battle with the disease, but many weren’t so lucky.
We need to keep reminding decision makers of their responsibility to make good policy decisions that are beneficial for Haiti and not just for the U.S. and Canada.
- Katharine Oswald, MCC Haiti policy analyst and advocacy coordinator
For the past five years, MCC has advocated on behalf of victims of the disease, like Gary and his son, including through FACE/JUSTICE. MCC is one of the few international relief, development and peacebuilding organizations advocating for Haiti’s cholera victims both in the country and to Ottawa, Washington, D.C., and at the UN.
"What I appreciate about MCC is that we’re willing to take up what may seem like an unpopular cause when we see it’s really important to people’s lives on the ground. I think MCC’s participation has definitely had an important impact on cholera advocacy,” Oswald said.
Although the UN has accepted blame in this situation, MCC invites other people to take action to end cholera in Haiti.
Consider visiting the FACE|JUSTICE website, praying for the people affected and tweeting a photo of yourself to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry urging them to #EndHaitiCholera.
“We need to keep reminding decision makers of their responsibility to make good policy decisions that are beneficial for Haiti and not just for the U.S. and Canada,” Oswald said