Haiti Cholera Victims Rejoice: We Have a Committee!

Port-de-Paix, Haiti, June 3, 2014: Cholera victims and their relatives reacted with boundless rejoicing throughout Haiti to last week’s announcement by the United Nations of the First Meeting of the High-Level Committee for the Elimination of Cholera in Haiti.

Jocelyne Augustin, 36, paused briefly as she pranced through the streets of Port-de-Paix, a wide smile across her face. Augustin lost her husband and two children to the cholera epidemic, introduced to Haiti in 2010 from a UN military base that deposited its human wastes into Haiti’s Meille River. “We have been through a lot, that’s true, but it all seems worth it now. We have a Committee!”

Her son Sadrac, 10, one of Augustin’s three surviving children, all unable to attend school in three years because of funeral expenses and the loss of their father’s income, added “not just a Committee, a High-Level Committee!”

The UN announced that bold steps already taken by the Committee to eliminate cholera included discussing “its administrative procedures, the launch of a national sanitation campaign as well as a social communications campaign.” The Committee was hastily established by the Haitian Government and the United Nations “to ensure that a strategy is applied for the elimination of cholera in Haiti,” only 1,316 days after the first UN cholera cases appeared in the country. Cholera has killed only 8,562 Haitians- a mere 55% of worldwide cholera deaths this decade-and sickened just 700,000 in this initial period, and the UN’s responsibility for the epidemic has only been established by dozens of studies, including the UN’s own panel of experts. The High Level Committee’s fast-track approach is intended to get ahead of the epidemic before it becomes serious.

There was some grumbling about the UN’s stalled Cholera-Free Hispaniola Initiative, that has not begun construction or treatment since its 2012 launch and has less money available than was originally announced, the UN’s refusal to implement the recommendations of its own Panel of Independent Experts issued in May 2011, or the closing of 2/3 of the country’s cholera treatment centers. But most people in Port-de-Paix believed the UN had reestablished credibility by announcing an Open Defecation Campaign the same week as the High-Level Committee.

Pierre Calixte of the Cholera Survivors Network sees the announcement as a step towards greater things for Haiti: “a High-Level Committee is nice, but we can do better. The UN said that Haiti could have 2,000 cholera deaths and 180,000 illnesses this year alone. If we can keep that pace up for three to four more years, we could even get a Joint Working Group. Would you like a glass of water?