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Cholera in Haiti: Action incumbent on us all

Action is exactly what 19 Members of Congress are reasonably asking of the United Nations, and it is what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is working to deliver.

In a letter spearheaded by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) earlier this summer, these Members urged a “nationwide response to the epidemic.” On Friday Ban responded, outlining major steps that have already helped to decrease the rate of new infection by 90 percent since the outbreak began, and further steps that stand to build on this progress.

These include:
The production of over 200,000 vaccines through UNICEF;

Collaboration with the Haitian government on an upcoming vaccination campaign;

New and upgraded treatment facilities and oral rehydration points across Haiti;

Sewage management in nearly 1,500 sites;

Sanitary facilities in 240 schools;

Over 9 million critical items, such as water purification tablets, soap and medical equipment supplied to the Haitian Ministry of Health;

Construction of wastewater treatment plants in key municipalities;

Establishment of nearly 700 water and temporary chlorination points;

Improved water supply in some of the most vulnerable areas;

Collaboration with the Haitian government to develop a water quality monitoring system for all 140 communes;

Community-based hygiene campaigns through the training of over 1,400 trainers and 5,200 community workers who have reached over 700,000 families; and

Logistical support for the movement of personnel and supplies, like the 400 metric tons of health, water and sanitation materials to areas facing outbreaks.

Still, as the Secretary-General fully acknowledges in his letter, “further progress must be made.” To that end, in May, the UN pledged $29 million in new funds, bringing the current total pledge in support of the Hispaniola Initiative to $207.4 million.

{mosads}While Members express concern that the UN has thus far committed only $23.5 million for this initiative, it is not for lack of will. The Secretary-General is diligently seeking funds from donors, including UN member states and philanthropies.

Yet it bears noting that this is one action that is not in the UN’s hands alone. The UN has no independent source of funding, and no reserve funds set aside for just such an emergency. All of its funds collected from member states are put to hard work for specific use addressing global need, be it in targeted missions that protect democracy, curb nuclear threats, or reduce the threat of global pandemics, to name a few.

The millions already pledged to Haiti are an earnest goal, yet they can only be raised from willing donors ­– like the United States. Further complicating matters, as the Secretary-General notes, “the austere fiscal environment” affecting UN member states could significantly affect new financial commitments.  Thus, it will take concerted action by the entire international community to fully fund the Hispaniola Initiative. 

There has been important public discussion about how the cholera crisis could be better addressed, but the UN is and will remain resolutely focused on achieving the goal of “better standards of life in larger freedom,”  as laid out in its Charter. The UN’s action clearly demonstrates that it stands by this commitment, and that it will continue its support in Haiti just as it assists countries the world over. Nevertheless, this assistance from the UN needs to be coupled with support from the public health community, Congress, and fellow member states to reach the end goal of a better future for all Haitians. 

Peter Yeo is executive director of the Better World Campaign.


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