[HAITIAN LIVES TAB]
The devastation caused by cholera is difficult to overstate. Families watched their loved ones suffer excruciatingly and die within hours of falling in, unable to save them.
"My thoughts are consumed by the memory of my baby. He fought through life; he survived the struggles of childbirth and infancy, only to be taken by cholera." - Renette Viergelan
Cholera is easily treatable and preventable with clean water and rehydration, but in the face of severe lack of resources, health and humanitarian actors have for years scrambled to respond.
"The road is so bad in my community, I had to put my sick wife on a horse to get her to the closest health clinic. Our community asks for a better life, a healthier life." - Philogene Nelson
Cholera is far from being an issue of the past. The UN estimates that another 30,000 people will be sickened in 2017. On average, cholera continues one to kill one person every day. Many of the hardest hit areas still lack a source of potable water or adequate sanitation facilities.
"Still, five years later, we don't have clean water to drink in our community. We only have the river." - Miradieu Devilus
Cholera infection rates spike each time there is heavy rain, as when Haiti was battered by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. With limited access to safe drinking water, communities across the country live in fear of contracting the disease again.
"I wish my community had a hospital. Then, maybe my parents would not have died." - Juliene Rosmene, 13 years old
For surviving families, cholera has created a domino effect with lasting impacts. Thousands of families lost breadwinners, and have been left struggling to survive without a source of income.
"My aunt died of cholera. She left behind six children, who are now living with distant relatives or in the streets." - Duvens Yacinthe
Children have been orphaned, and often have to be pulled out of school because there is no money to send them, condemning them to intergenerational poverty.
Jean-Pierre Fedline, 10 years old, lost his mother to cholera. He was orphaned and now lives with his aunt.
Families spent their life savings on burials. Others took out loans to be able to give their loved ones proper funerals, pay for medical care, or transportation to clinics. Years later, they are unable to repay their debt, and have often had to sell their only productive assets in an attempt to do so.
"My family needed to take out a loan while I was recovering from cholera. I couldn't work for three months. Five years later, these loan repayments are still burying us." - Georges Benira
These harms are reversible. While no compensation will fully make up for the lives lost, victims repeatedly stress the desperate need for modest, direct financial assistance to help them get back on their feet. By delivering on the New Approach, the UN can eliminate the threat of cholera and help address the harms to the victims. Making good on its promises will save thousands of lives in Haiti, and the UN’s own legacy.
The cholera crisis in Haiti has become a flashpoint for rising concerns about UN peacekeeping accountability. The ongoing failure of the UN to adequately address the cholera epidemic and provide support for the victims has spurred widespread criticism across international media, among policy makers, and the general public. It has eroded trust in the UN system, and directly undermined MINUSTAH’s credibility and ability to carry out its mandate.
MINUSTAH was deployed to Haiti in 2004 with a mandate of promoting rule of law and human rights. Yet to many Haitians, it has become synonymous with evasion of responsibility.
The former UN spokesperson in Haiti, Silvie Van den Wildenberg, noted that she can’t mention the mission without someone asking her about cholera or the cases of sexual abuse. “It is the opposite of why we are here, to defend the highest values and ideals and this is killing our credibility worldwide.”
The UN’s promises to address the cholera crisis through a “new approach” has the potential to reverse this legacy by fulfilling the UN’s duty to eliminate cholera and help the victims in heal. Yet, as the New York Times observed in a recent editorial, the lack of follow-through to date provides “today’s lesson in evading moral responsibility.” At a time when faith in multilateralism and peacekeeping is receding, the UN must follow through on its promises or signal to the world that its commitments to accountability are hollow.
"[The failure to respond] undermines the reputation of the United Nations, calls into question the ethical framework within which its peace-keeping forces operate, and challenges the credibility of the Organization as an entity that respects human rights.”
The time to deliver on the New Approach is now. If the cholera scandal is not addressed by MINUSTAH’s closure, MINUSTAH’s successor mission MINUJUSTH will inherit the same credibility problems that plagued MINUSTAH, and lack the legitimacy to effectively carry out its mandate of promoting rule of law and human rights from the start.