UN chief Ban apol­o­gizes to Haitian peo­ple over cholera epi­demic

‘We sim­ply did not do enough’

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH -

UNITED NA­TIONS: UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon on Thurs­day apol­o­gized for the first time to the peo­ple of Haiti for the role played by the world body’s peace­keep­ers in spark­ing a dev­as­tat­ing cholera epi­demic in the coun­try.

“On be­half of the United Na­tions, I want to say very clearly we apol­o­gize to the Haitian peo­ple,” he said three timesin Haitian Cre­ole, French and English-to the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly. “We sim­ply did not do enough with re­gards to the cholera out­break and its spread in Haiti,” Ban said. “We are pro­foundly sorry for our role.”

Ac­cord­ing to nu­mer­ous in­de­pen­dent ex­perts, cholera was in­tro­duced to Haiti by in­fected Nepalese UN peace­keep­ers sent to the Caribbean coun­try af­ter the mas­sive 2010 earth­quake. Cholera, a dis­ease that is trans­mit­ted through con­tam­i­nated drink­ing water and causes acute di­ar­rhea, is a ma­jor chal­lenge in a coun­try with poor san­i­tary con­di­tions.

The cholera epi­demic has claimed more than 9,000 lives in Haiti, the most im­pov­er­ished coun­try in the Amer­i­cas, and in­fected 800,000 peo­ple. The United Na­tions re­it­er­ated its re­jec­tion of claims that it is also legally re­spon­si­ble for the dam­ages from the health emer­gency. “We do not change our ba­sic le­gal po­si­tion,” UN Deputy Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Jan Elias­son told re­porters.

Ban in­sisted the UN has “a moral re­spon­si­bil­ity to act.” “This has cast a shadow upon the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the United Na­tions and the peo­ple of Haiti,” he said. “It is a blem­ish on the rep­u­ta­tion of UN peace­keep­ing.”

A ‘new ap­proach’

The UN chief also for­mally pre­sented the 193-na­tion Gen­eral As­sem­bly with a “new ap­proach,” a two-pronged pro­gram to help the fam­i­lies of the cholera vic­tims and sup­port the bat­tle against the dis­ease. The UN hopes the new pro­posal will raise $400 mil­lion over two years, but fund­ing for prior UN as­sis­tance to Haiti has been slow to ar­rive. Ban urged donors to fi­nance the pro­gram. “On the scale of global hu­man­i­tar­ian and de­vel­op­ment needs, lim­ited sums are re­quired to elim­i­nate cholera in Haiti,” he pleaded. “This mis­sion is re­al­is­tic and doable. Cholera is a treat­able and pre­ventable dis­ease. It can be con­trolled and elim­i­nated.”

Since the out­break of cholera in Haiti and the en­su­ing ac­cu­sa­tions against the UN peace­keep­ers, the United Na­tions has stead­fastly ar­gued its mis­sions en­joy diplo­matic im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion. That im­mu­nity has been up­held by US courts in re­ject­ing sev­eral law­suits filed by vic­tims seek­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in dam­ages for neg­li­gence.

To lift that im­mu­nity would jeop­ar­dize UN peace­keep­ing op­er­a­tions, Elias­son said. “This is a true apol­ogy,” he said, adding that Ban “wanted to do it be­fore the end of his term” on De­cem­ber 31.

Philip Al­ston, UN spe­cial rap­por­teur on ex­treme poverty and hu­man rights, said in an Oc­to­ber re­port to the Gen­eral As­sem­bly that the UN’s po­si­tion “flouted the ap­pli­ca­ble in­ter­na­tional law” and “un­der­mined the cred­i­bil­ity of the or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

In Au­gust, the UN rec­og­nized for the first time that it brought cholera to Haiti and had a “moral re­spon­si­bil­ity” to­ward the vic­tims, promis­ing ma­te­rial aid.

Two pro­grams

Ban con­firmed Thurs­day that two pro­grams were planned, each cost­ing $200 mil­lion. One will strengthen the fight against the epi­demic, which resurged af­ter Hur­ri­cane Matthew dev­as­tated the coun­try in early Oc­to­ber, and im­prove the coun­try’s san­i­tary in­fra­struc­ture.

Some 72 per­cent of Haitians have no toi­lets at home and 42 per­cent still lack ac­cess to drink­ing water, the UN says. The other pro­gram in­cludes mea­sures to pri­or­i­tize aid to cholera vic­tims and their fam­i­lies. It would sup­port lo­cally led projects, such as health care, mi­cro-lend­ing and ed­u­ca­tion fi­nanc­ing.

— AFP

LES CAYES, Haiti: This file photo taken on Oc­to­ber 15, 2016 shows UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon vis­it­ing a shel­ter in the Lycee Phillipe Guer­rier.

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