Peacekeepers 'brought cholera to Haiti'

United Nations reluctantly agrees to investigate convincing claims Nepalese troops imported disease

Allegations that UN peacekeepers are the source of Haiti's cholera epidemic are being formally investigated by the organisation.

Despite weeks of denials by the UN and the World Health Organisation (WHO), there seems little doubt now that the deadly bacterium, which has left thousands of people sick or dead, was brought into the country by infected troops from Nepal, where the disease has broken out several times this summer.

The UN's previous dismissals of the claims were a primary factor in riots that paralysed parts of Haiti last week. At least three people were killed and dozens injured as unrest spread from the north to the capital last Thursday amid growing anger at the UN's defiance.

Relief efforts stalled last week as supplies and workers were held up by barricaded roads and closed airports. Gunshots were heard in Port-au-Prince, and police fired tear gas at angry demonstrators throwing rocks at UN vehicles on Thursday. As a result, Oxfam stopped distributing soap, hygiene kits and rehydration salts in Cap-Haitien, where the fatality rate is the highest in the country. Dr Unni Krishnan from Plan International said: "All the aid agencies have been affected by the violence and protests. This [Saturday] morning we are just starting to freely move our people and supplies because things seem a little quieter."

The UN investigation into the source of the epidemic comes after rumours of a "foreign disease" triggered fear and then anger among Haitians. The first confirmed cases have been traced along the Artibonite River, not far from the UN base which houses nearly 500 Nepalese guards. Locals have long complained about the stinking sewage oozing from the base, contaminating the river that they rely on for drinking water. UN military police were spotted last week taking samples from a broken pipe next to the base's latrines and an overflowing septic tank. The UN has belatedly agreed to review all its sanitation systems across Haiti, officials told Associated Press.

The latest Nepalese deployment arrived in October after summer's cholera outbreaks in Nepal. The UN's insistence that none of the peacekeepers showed symptoms of the disease has caused frustration among experts as 75 per cent of people infected with cholera are without symptoms but remain contagious. These denials came as aid agencies struggled to convince people about the need for good hygiene and sanitation regardless of disease symptoms.

The whole region could be at risk from the cholera strain, which the US Centers for Disease Control has confirmed matches the strain found most prevalently in South Asia. The first cases were recorded in neighbouring Dominican Republic and in Florida last week.

In a country plagued by drug wars, political coups, poverty and natural disasters, and which relies on foreign governments, aid agencies and the UN for almost everything, the implications of the UN investigation are far-reaching. The current peacekeeping mission is the fifth since 1993, and rumours of a UN cover-up could even threaten the country's fragile stability, according to Brian Concannon, the director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. "The way to contribute to public anger is to lie," Mr Concannon said.

Amid the growing security threat, which is likely to intensify before next Sunday's planned elections, Médecins Sans Frontières pleaded yesterday for more nurses and doctors in Haiti as they prepare to treat twice as many new cases this week.

The disease is expected to peak between 26 and 29 November in the northern slum areas of Cité Soleil, where the disease entered the capital three weeks ago, according to MSF epidemiologists. This means the organisation's already overstretched health professionals are likely to see between 300 and 400 new patients from Cité Soleil every day this week – up from 220 a day last week.

The number of cases in Martissant, an equally unsanitary slum in a southern district of Port-au-Prince, has risen by nearly 40 per cent in the last few days. To stand any chance of coping, MSF, which is providing more than 80 per cent of all medical help for cholera patients, must increase the number of cholera beds from 1,900 to 3,000 over the next few days.

Stefano Zannini, the head of the MSF mission in Haiti, said: "By next weekend we will start to see the first peaks of cholera, which will continue nationally over the next few weeks. The next 10 days are critical and there are not enough health professionals to cope. We are taking drastic steps and appealing to any nurses, doctors and auxiliaries in Haiti who are not in employment to come and help us. We want the Health Ministry to make final-year medical students available as well. And we need doctors and nurses internationally to make themselves available for Haiti now."

The UN has received only $5m (£3m) in response to an appeal more than a week ago for $164m to tackle the epidemic. Agencies such as ActionAid are redirecting money meant for rebuilding and employment programmes, gathered after January's devastating earthquake, to health education campaigns. There are signs that these messages are starting to filter through, but millions of Haitians who are surviving on less than $2 a day still have no access to clean water, bleach and toilets, said Jane Moyo from ActionAid.

For the doctors on the cholera frontline, aid agencies have woken up too late. Mr Zannini said: "Haiti is full of humanitarian organisations. But if you are a humanitarian organisation how can it take you so long to respond to a crisis which started five weeks ago? That we cannot understand. We have been trying to fight a fire with a glass of water."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas
footballChelsea vs West Ham live kicks off coverage of all 10 of Boxing Day matches
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
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
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all