Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cholera Epidemic: The Haitian Government must determine MINUSTAH’s responsibility

Cholera Epidemic: The Haitian Government must determine MINUSTAH’s responsibility

Press release from Haiti's Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains

The National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH) is deeply alarmed by the epidemic of cholera which, during the second half of October 2010 hit the country, particularly the departments of Artibonite and Centre.

Official figures show that as of November 2nd, 2010, there are more than three hundred thirty-seven (337) reported deceased against the four thousand seven hundred twenty-two (4722) presenting with symptoms of the disease.

While these figures are alarming, RNDDH however encourages the continued efforts by state authorities and international agencies working in the field of health, to reduce the number of deaths, to treat people already infected with cholera and prevent the spread of the disease.

If the source of cholera is not yet known, RNDDH feels obliged to share with national and international community, its’ misgivings about the involvement of the United Nations Mission for Stabilization in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in the transmission of this disease.

Indeed, according to information gathered on the ground by RNDDH and one of its departmental structures, the Central Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RECENDH) Nepalese soldiers, assigned to the MINUSTAH base at Mirebalais, dug two (2) pits, connected by pipes made of polyvinyl chloride (also known as PVC), which has allowed them to dump the waste water and fecal material into the Boukan Kanni and Jenba rivers near Meille, thereby degrading and polluting the environment of the country. Consequently, a foul smell emanates from these rivers, and many users claim to suffer from vaginal infections, rashes and skin diseases such as eczema. Moreover, these rivers are tributaries of the Artibonite River that carries water to its mouth in Grande Saline.

RNDDH recalls that the MINUSTAH base in Mirebalais is responsible for the collapse of the Latèm bridge in 2008. Indeed, the base is located on the floodplain of the Boukan Kanni river, large shipping containers were placed by officers to prevent any risk of flooding during the torrential rains that battered the region on the 8th to the 9th of September 2008. These containers directly caused the washout and collapse of the bridge.

RNDDH believes that if the cholera is a disease caused by poor hygiene, the contamination of the Boukan Kanni, Jenba and consequently, the Artibonite rivers, may have contributed to its spread in the Central and Artibonite departments.

RNDDH finds it inconceivable that MINUSTAH soldiers are involved in the pollution of rivers and the further degradation of Haiti’s environment, already shattered by the rampant cutting of trees, anarchic construction of buildings and blocked waterways.

Faced with this epidemic that is sweeping the country, RNDDH recommends that the authorities concerned:

• Make an independent investigation to determine, if any, responsibility for
MINUSTAH in the spread of this disease;

• Educate staff of MINUSTAH on environmental protection;

• Take all appropriate measures to prevent the spread of the disease in
areas not yet affected, and particularly in highly concentrated areas.

Port-au-Prince, November 3rd 2010

NOTE: This document has been translated from the original version published in French.

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