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Cholera cases on the rise in Haiti

As the rainy season begins again in Haiti, the number of cholera cases is rising.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the country is experiencing an increase of cases in Port-au-Prince, the southern peninsula and also in the Artibonite and Nord regions. In just over a month between May and June, authorities registered over 18,000 new infections and during that period, 90 per cent of beds in the capital’s cholera treatment centres were occupied.

Since the epidemic started in October last year, nearly 5,400 Haitians have died of the disease. The first cholera cases were reported near the Artibonite River in central Haiti, near to where a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping force was based. Yesterday, a report issued by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the most likely source of the contamination was indeed the military camp of UN peacekeepers. The authors of the report highlighted the “exact correlation in time and places between the arrival of a Nepalese battalion from an area experiencing a cholera outbreak and the appearance of the first cases in Meille a few days after.” The remote location of Meille, the absence of other newcomers to the area and the distant strain of the disease were further reasons suggesting the disease originated with the Nepalese soldiers.

Earlier this year, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, called for lessons to be learnt from the disaster, but he avoided directing any blame at the peacekeepers, referring instead to “a confluence of circumstances”. However, many Haitians were quick to blame the UN force for the cholera outbreak and their anger led to riots last year. The risk to Haitians remains great, since many still have limited access to clean water and proper sanitation. And this situation is likely to worsen as non-governmental organisations wind down their water-trucking and sewage removal activities because funds are dwindling.

According to a recent report from the International Crisis Group (ICG), frustration is growing among the homeless over their basic existence nearly a year and half after the disaster. People are not only frustrated at the lack of facilities, they are tired of having to abandon their tents because of the storms which flood the camps during the hurricane season.  Evictions by landlords are another cause of stress, as is the threat of violence in the camps. The ICG report calls on the new government to adopt “a national resettlement policy rapidly”. The report’s authors warn that unless the camps begin to close soon, the living conditions of many hundreds and thousands simply do not allow for the “peace, stability and security” which Haiti so desperately needs.

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