by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)
The number of experts casting doubt on the likelihood of the U.N. having been the source of Haiti’s deadly cholera epidemic is getting increasingly smaller. In what Foreign Policy’s Turtle Bay blogger Colum Lynch calls a "dramatic retreat," a panel of independent U.N. experts who earlier had reported that the outbreak’s cause "was not the fault" of any "group or individual" and cited environmental factors – most notably Haiti’s lack of adequate sanitation – as being partly at fault, have now determined that U.N. troops from Nepal "most likely” were the cause.
Lynch goes on to write that "the four scientists -- Alejandro Cravioto, Daniele Lantagne, G. Balakrish Nair, Claudio F. Lanata -- who wrote the original report say that new evidence that has come to light in the past two years. While not conclusive, that evidence has strengthened the case against the United Nations. The experts -- who no longer work for the United Nations -- also defended their initial findings, saying the ‘majority of evidence’ at the time was ‘circumstantial.’ They added, that the "current strain Nepal strain of cholera was not available for molecular analysis" at the time. The team's new report tracks the arrival in October 2010 of a contingent of Nepalese peacekeepers from Kathmandu to a UN encampment in the Haitian village of Mirebalais, which sits on the banks of the Artibonite River."
Lynch writes that the "report stated that the peacekeepers had constructed a series a ‘haphazard’ system of pipes from the U.N. camps showers and toilets to the six fiberglass tanks. The ‘black water waste,’ which included human feces, was then transferred to an open, unfenced, septic pit, where children and animals frequently roamed. The system provided ‘significant potential’ for contamination."
But in fact the report does not say the UN troops themselves "constructed " the "haphazard" pipe system themselves; the UN is supposed to have hired a contractor, Sanco Enterprises SA, to facilitate the removal of human waste from the base. The UN does of course bear blame for the contractor’s negligence, however.
Lynch reports: "The panel ruled out the possibility that the cholera strain had originated in the region, saying the lethal strain was ‘very similar but not identical to the South Asian strain of Vibrio Cholerae.’... ‘The exact source of introduction of cholera into Haiti will never be known with scientific certainty, as it is not possible to travel back in time to conduct the necessary investigations,’ the panel's members wrote in its new report.. ‘However, the preponderance of the evidence and the weight of the circumstantial evidence does lead to the conclusion that personnel associated with the Mirebalais MINUSTAH [The U.N. Mission in Haiti] facility were the most likely source of introduction of cholera into Haiti.’"
Lynch notes that "The latest findings will increase pressure on the United Nations to acknowledge responsibility for introducing cholera into the country." As we have recently described, the UN has taken a defensive posture both toward its own responsibility for the epidemic and for ensuring funding for its own cholera eradication plan (prepared with the Haitian and Dominican governments and NGOs).
A Haitian cholera victim. UN-dispatched experts now admit that their sponsor’s troops must have started the epidemic.