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Incompetence in the Time of Cholera

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The U.N. kept dismissing it as an unfounded rumor. It laughed it off as a figment of the paranoid imaginations of anti-U.N. conspiracy theorists. The U.N. itself said that it was “simply not a priority.”

Studies have now confirmed what was apparent from the outset. Nearly 5,000 Haitians died, and nearly half a million more Haitians were sickened, because the United Nations introduced Cholera to a country that had not seen the disease in over 100 years.

As someone who has been making a movie about the U.N. over the past couple of years (, I have known and followed the massive peacekeeper abuses that the U.N. has recently been responsible for, the selling of weapon for gold to rebels, the rapes and sexual abuse, the standing silent when slaughter is taking place under their watch, but this is different. One of the few things that the U.N. has been relatively good at is disaster relief. Even U.N. critics would laud them for their quick deployment to countries ravaged by natural disaster. This event shatters any vestige of that belief.

In many ways this is really a microcosm of the U.N. Good intentions turning into failure by either politicization or naked incompetence. This case is magnified because the deaths were coupled by a complete disregard for the facts and an almost bizarre disdain for the victims. The U.N. refused to acknowledge the source of these fatal bacteria and sneered at their accusers in the face of undeniable circumstantial and anecdotal evidence that they were, in fact, responsible. Health officials could not believe the resistance that they faced from U.N. officials. The outbreak and ensuing outrage built to such a pitch that Haitians were protesting in the still dangerous earthquake-ruined streets. Yet the U.N. did nothing to investigate their role in the epidemic, and in fact inveigled and deflected the issue.

This was obviously an enormously fragile time for Haiti, where the nation hung in the balance after the unimaginable disaster that struck that long-troubled country. Knowing that, for the U.N. not to take the most basic steps as making sure that its troops were not bringing in deadly contagions into an already delicate ecosystem is unforgivable. The fact that it did nothing to determine whether or not it was responsible after mounting circumstantial evidence pointed directly towards U.N. peacekeepers, was criminal. The U.N. simply alleged that people were playing “the blame game” and that dealing with this question was “not a priority.” Nearly 5,000 deaths later, I wonder if they now think that it should have been a priority.

The outbreak began at a U.N. camp housing Nepalese troops. Shockingly, these troops were brought in after a summer of cholera outbreaks in Nepal, an outbreak that the U.N. itself, through the WHO, was involved in fighting. Yet inexplicably, or not so inexplicably since we are talking about the United Nations, not a single peacekeeper was tested. In October, the last of the Nepalese peacekeepers had settled in and later that month the cholera bacterium appeared for the first time in Haiti in nearly a century. Yet the U.N. did nothing. It struck its first victims near the UN outpost in Mirebalais. Yet the U.N. did nothing. The Cholera strain was quickly determined to be a Southeast Asian strain, yet the U.N. continued to deny any responsibility. When journalists later visited the camp , they witnessed fecal sewage tanks infested with the bacteria overflowing and streaming into the river. Yet the United Nations continued to stammer about how they were meeting EPA standards and that they were dumping the sewage far away from the river.

Within days, the disease had spread throughout the river delta and to the coast, infecting thousands of Haitians in towns along the river. It has since spread throughout the country and continues to sicken and claim lives today.

There were tens of thousands of workers and soldiers from all over the world, but it was only the U.N. peacekeepers that brought in disease.

One of the great tragedies for the U.N. is that this will overshadow many of the great things that they accomplished in Haiti. In a nation on the verge of complete lawlessness, even before the earthquake, they were able to bring a measure of security to the country and they accomplished a major amount of humanitarian work. In the world’s view and especially the Haitians’, all of this will have been lost in the irresponsible and incompetent action of the United Nations. Unfortunately, what else is new?

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