There has been much discussion in the media over the past day regarding whether Tropical Storm Isaac might rain on the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, and possibly cause delays or a cancellation. Receiving less attention is that 400,000 some people in Haiti are still living in tents, under tarps and various forms of makeshift housing – people who became internally displaced persons (IDP’s) after the 2010 earthquake, and they are also in the storm’s projected path.
Aside from the more obvious threats that flooding and strong winds could mean for IDP camps and other vulnerable communities, Isaac could also bring a spike in cholera infections. As we have pointed out before, along with countless news articles, medical reports, and NGO press releases, Haiti’s cholera infections surge with rainy weather, and tropical storms and hurricanes pose an especially ominous threat. The lack of adequate sanitation and safe drinking water in IDP camps means that drinking water sources are likely to be contaminated by waste water when flooding occurs – along with the tents, tarps, and much bedding and other possessions. And it is not just the IDPs who face increased dangers with heavy rain. As the cholera response has been scaled back, access to cholera treatment centers in rural Haiti has decreased. While flooding and mudslides pose extreme danger on their own, they can also prevent those in need from traveling to secure the care that is needed.
We wrote two weeks ago that the Haitian health ministry reported a slower rate of infection this summer, which it attributed to unusually dry weather, but that they predicted an increase in the coming months as the hurricane season begins. The Pan American Health Organization estimates that Haiti could see up to 170,000 new cases this year, which would mean an average of about 20,000 cases per month over the next five months – 5,000 more cases per month than in the previous three months. We further noted that the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was reporting a “very weak” “capacity to respond to potential outbreaks,” such as could occur with a drenching tropical storm.
The United Nations, meanwhile, whose troops caused the epidemic in October 2010, has yet to take responsibility by taking steps to contain and control cholera.
The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti issued a press release today urging United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović, who was set to travel to Haiti this week, “to examine the human rights implications of the cholera epidemic brought to Haiti by UN troops,” noting that
Cholera has killed more than 7,500 Haitians and infected over 580,000 since it was introduced by UN peacekeepers in October 2010. Despite overwhelming evidence that the UN caused the epidemic, the world body continues to deny responsibility and has not adequately responded to stop cholera’s killing.
“We applaud Assistant Secretary-General Šimonoviæ’s emphasis on rule of law as a necessary for the enjoyment of human rights in Haiti,” said Mario Joseph, Haiti’s leading human rights lawyer, who represents cholera victims in their claims at the UN. “To be a credible advocate for rule of law, however, the UN must demonstrate by example and be accountable for the cholera epidemic it caused.”
IJDH’s Brian Concannon adds
“The UN cholera is a massive violation of the internationally-recognized right to water for millions of Haitians, and of the right to life for thousands. …We hope that Assistant Secretary-General Šimonoviæ sees that the UN has a historic opportunity to advance the enforceability of water and sanitation rights globally, and save thousands of lives, by acting consistently with its professed ideals.”
But Šimonović, who was supposed “to discuss deep-rooted human rights challenges” with Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, the President of the Senate, Dieuseul Simon Desras, and others, canceled the trip due to Isaac, noting that “tropical storm Isaac is expected to grow into a hurricane by the time it hits Hispaniola on Friday 24.” Haiti’s 400,000 IDP’s, meanwhile, do not have the luxury of simply canceling their pending appointment with Isaac.