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
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
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
News
Sir James Dyson: 'Students must be inspired to take up the challenge of engineering'
i100
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
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: Junior Estimator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Negotiator - OTE £24,000

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An enthusiastic individual is r...

Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - West Midlands - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - Yorkshire & Humber - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?