Haiti cholera epidemic victims filed a lawsuit against United Nations on Wednesday pleading for compensation over the outbreak that took the lives of 8,300 people.
The legal petition was filed at the New York district court and claims that at the very minimum, 679,000 people contracted cholera since the outbreak originated in October 2010. In addition, the epidemic spread from Haiti and resulted in additional cholera cases in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the United States, claims the petition.
Haiti had been cholera free for 150 years, until Nepalese troops under UN command introduced it in Haiti’s water streams, according to Ira Kurzban, the attorney representing the victims. United Nations maintains its position that it is legally immune from legal action and has categorically refused to reach an out-of-court settlement.
The cholera strain that devastated Haiti, matches the one endemic in Nepal, according to researchers from France and United States.
The defendants in the lawsuit are listed as a) United Nations, b) UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti and c) Two of their officers, whereas US-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) is representing the 8,000 victims and their families.
The epidemic has dealt a new blow to Haiti’s already weak human development indices, as it continues to claim 1,000+ lives a year, adding to the 250,000+ death toll in the aftermath of January 2010 earthquake.
Even before the earthquake, Haiti was at or near the bottom of UN’s human development rankings, far behind its Caribbean neighbors such as Barbados as well as Trinidad and Tobago.
Barbados is placed among the top-tier in human development rankings alongside Finland, Japan, United States and Singapore. So why is Barbados doing so well, whereas Haiti is seen as the poster-child of misery?
Population explosion and unsustainable fertility rate might partly account for Haiti’s failure to cultivate human capital, a pre-condition to build robust health care, education and crisis management sectors. Whereas Barbados has a total fertility rate and demographic momentum resembling South Korea, Haiti’s fertility rate is closer to impoverished Nepal, with whom it shares the cholera strain.
If UN wishes to help Haiti and Nepal, not only should it provide immediate help in eradicating cholera, but it should also do more to offer family planning and long term contraception services in partnership with Haitian and Nepalese governments as well as local and international non-governmental organizations such as the Gates Foundation.