The United Nations, which made cholera endemic to Haiti after its peacekeeping forces introduced the disease to the country in 2010, now has a plan to pay individual Haitians or communities money, reports The New York Times.
Outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who insists that the organization is not legally culpable but has acknowledged a “moral responsibility” for the horrific calamity, recently introduced a proposed $400 million cholera response package.
But The Times reports the UN does not have that much cash on hand, and that the international body continues to face criticism for avoiding legal responsibility for “one of the worst calamities to ever befall Haiti,” the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Roughly 9,500 Haitians have died from cholera (some experts believe the number to be much greater) and hundreds of thousands have been sickened. The disease has surged in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. The Times notes:
Cholera, an infectious and potentially fatal disease spread via contaminated drinking water, had never been present in Haiti until United Nations peacekeepers on assignment from Nepal, where cholera is common, disposed infected waste into a river. The disease spread ferociously in a nation still traumatized by a devastating earthquake that had already wreaked havoc on water and sanitation systems.
“Cholera is now endemic to Haiti,” said Louise Ivers, the senior health policy adviser at Partners in Health, to the New York Times. “If there had been massive influx of resources in the first year, the first two years, the first three years, it certainly would have been a lot easier to address.”
The UN first acknowledged its role in spreading the deadly outbreak in August of this year after a scathing report by an independent United Nations human rights adviser (leaked to the New York Times) and just before a federal appeals court in New York upheld the immunity of the United Nations from prosecution under a diplomatic treaty.
But Haitian victims and their families who have unsuccessfully sought to sue the United Nations may or may not be appeased. Lawyers for the victims have not yet decided whether to pursue further appeals, including to the United States Supreme Court.
Interestingly, United States government lawyers represented the United Nations in the federal court case affirming its legal immunity, and judges have cited the Obama administration’s interpretation of the diplomatic immunity convention as a major influence on their decisions.
Dr. David Nabarro, the British physician appointed by Ban to lead the anti-cholera effort, said the $200 million earmarked for payouts could be money for families of the dead and would amount to roughly $21,000 for each of the estimated victims. Or it could be spent on helping the hardest-hit communities, with benefits such as scholarships or health insurance.
A State Department spokesman had no comment “due to ongoing litigation.”
SOURCE: New York Times | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty