Haiti's cholera misery: 5,000 dead – and UN peacekeepers to blame

Report likely to raise tensions in earthquake-ravaged nation

Five thousand dead, 300,000 ill, and a medical emergency that has already lasted six months; now the people of Haiti have someone to blame for the cholera outbreak which has swept through their earthquake-ravaged country: the blue-helmeted peacekeepers of the United Nations.

An official report into the ongoing epidemic, which began last October, has concluded that it was almost certainly caused by a poorly constructed sanitation system installed at a rural camp used by several hundred UN troops from Nepal.

The virulent strain of cholera bacteria began infecting locals after faecal matter from their base seeped from badly designed septic pits into the Meye River, a tributary of the Artibonite River in the country's central region.

The river system is used by tens of thousands of mostly rural Haitians to provide water for drinking, cooking, bathing and washing clothes. When large numbers began falling ill, hospitals were quickly overwhelmed. It was then only a matter of time before the outbreak spread to major cities.

The findings will only add to tension between peacekeepers and the citizens of a country which is still barely starting to recover from the worst natural disaster in modern history. The earthquake in January last year left between 200,000 and 300,000 people dead, and 1.5 million homeless.

The UN's glacial response to the initial disaster, and the slow progress of reconstruction efforts – about 750,000 Haitians still live in "temporary" refugee camps – has been a cause of complaint in the capital, Port-au-Prince. With the rainy season approaching, health experts fear cholera could add to their woes by infecting a further 500,000 people.

That would represent a major public relations disaster for the UN mission. Since October, many locals have blamed Nepalese peacekeepers for introducing cholera to their country. Before Christmas, and again last week, the issue sparked protests, with reports of crowds throwing rocks at UN staff.

The report into the cholera outbreak, which was compiled by a four-person panel of medical experts and released on Wednesday night, justifies many of their complaints. It concluded that the cholera in Haiti originated in Asia, as many locals suspected, and matches strains found in Nepal in 2009.

Although the panel then dismisses as a mere "hypothesis" suggestions that Nepalese troops brought the bacteria into the country (which had been cholera-free for decades), it concedes that the disease began infecting large numbers of Haitians only when it entered the water supply via their camp's dysfunctional septic disposal system.

"The sanitation conditions at the Mirebalais Minustah camp were not sufficient to prevent faecal contamination of the Meye Tributary System of the Artibonite River with human faecal waste," the report states. "There is no fence around the site, and children were observed playing and animals roaming in the area around the pit."

From there, the contaminated river was then the "likely route of the spread of Vibrio cholerae from the mountains of Mirabalais to the coastal areas around the Artibonite River Delta," leading to an "explosive cholera outbreak eventually throughout Haiti".

In conclusions that are unlikely to dampen local anger, the report cites a "confluence of circumstances," many beyond the UN's control, for contributing to the subsequent death toll.

The Artibonite River and its surrounding canal system provided "optimal conditions" for the bacteria to spread, it reads. Many Haitians ignored basic hygiene rules, and lacked immunity to cholera. And hospitals in the region were quickly overwhelmed.

"The introduction of this cholera strain as a result of environmental contamination with faeces could not have been the source of such an outbreak without simultaneous water and sanitation and health care system deficiencies," concludes the report.

Haiti's new President, Michel Martelly, has yet to respond to the UN findings. Clifford Baron, the owner of Sanco Enterprises, the company contracted by the UN to dispose of waste at the Mirebalais camp, refused to comment.

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, said, he would "convene a task force" within the UN to "study the findings and recommendations".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The cartoon depicts the UK (far left) walking around a Syrian child refugee
newsIn an exclusive artwork for The Independent, Ali Ferzat attacks Britain's lack of 'humanity'
Life and Style
Man taking selfie in front of car
health
Sport
footballManager attacks Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp after criticism of Diego Costa's apparent stamping
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Frozen out: despite being filmed in Iceland, 'Fortitude' is set further north, in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard
tvGerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Life and Style
Carmen Khu from The Royal China Club pours a cup of Dai-Hong-Po tea
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Manager - OTE £40,000

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web-based lead generation ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Intervention Teacher Required To Start ASAP.

£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore