Haiti, Cholera and the UN


Sufficient evidence traces back the source of the October 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti to the MINUSTAH camp in Mirebalais. The Nepalese peacekeepers failed to maintain proper sanitary conditions, and dumped human waste directly in the Meille River. The strain of the cholera virus was found to be identical to the one in Nepal. As of May 31st of this year (2013), the cholera outbreak has claimed 8,120 lives and infected more than half a million Haitians. 150 new cases of infection are counted every day, and a person is dying from cholera every 40 minutes. The UN is held accountable for the outbreak because it didn’t screen the Nepalese troops for cholera before their arrival in Haiti. It also failed to maintain water testing equipment in good condition, which caused unsanitary and extremely infectious conditions in the camp area. The UN is not only responsible for causing the outbreak, but for failing to properly address the outbreak after it happened. It intentionally delayed investigation on the matter, and tried at every turn to conceal the source of contamination.


Haiti faces major challenges in regards to its water, sanitation, and transportation infrastructure. With the main river infested with the cholera virus, the majority of the Haitian people are left with no alternative source of water. A lot of civilians therefore still drink from the river and get infected. 83% of Haitians don’t have the means to dispose of their fecal waste properly. Half of the garbage is left uncollected. There are only 2 sanitation plants in operation for a country of more than 10 million people. The number of cholera treatment centers has dropped significantly over the last two years: it went down from over 300 clinics in early 2011 to a low 28 as of April 2013 for the entire country. In the meantime, the death toll keeps increasing. People are not able to reach hospitals and clinics on time because it is so hard for them to move around.


Haiti suffers from a severe shortage of funding, and a serious lack of transparency and accountability on where money goes. The great majority of funds collected for Haiti are not spent in Haiti, with only 10% of the total $6.4 billion invested actually going through national systems. As MINUSTAH’s budget for peacekeeping operations goes down, Ian Schwab suggests that more money could be put into the cholera eradication plan, which is estimated at $2.27 billion over 10 years.


The standing claims commission still hasn’t been established in practice. This means that there is no effective judicial mechanism enabling Haitian civilians affected by cholera to file claims against the MINUSTAH. Furthermore, the 1964 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations grants immunity to UN personnel from legal courts in countries where they are stationed.

The UN has a legal obligation to provide remedy for the cholera outbreak aftermath. The Haitian people demand:

1-      Investment in water and sanitation infrastructure to promote better hygiene, water delivery and waste collection

2-      Implementation and funding of an effective cholera eradication plan

3-      Compensation for losses

4-      A public apology from the UN recognizing the responsibility of the MINUSTAH in the cholera outbreak


While the Haitian government is pro-UN, thousands of Haitians are protesting against what they perceive to be an illegal armed force in their country. UN soldiers have repeatedly violated the space and integrity of university campuses, fired at Haitian civilians during protests, and been found guilty of several rape incidents. The Haitian people want doctors, engineers, agronomists instead of the MINUSTAH.


The lack of transparency in regards to mining contracts is particularly worrisome as the country’s landscape and infrastructure are already tremendously fragile. Haitians, especially in the rural North, are very concerned about the impact of potential mining exploration activities would have on the environment. The country is at a roadblock because the government is pro-mining operations while the senate is against it. This poses a major obstacle for the implementation of sustainable solutions to health and environmental problems in the country.

Celia Tutunjian

New York Environmental Law & Justice Project

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