Jonathan M. Katz exposes a UN peacekeeping mission to Haiti responsible for spreading a strain of cholera that has infected more than 647,000 people and killed about 8,000 – cases the agency tried to cover up. Last week the UN refused to compensate the victims, citing legal immunity:
The U.N.’s claim of immunity is ironic in Haiti, where, after all, a lack of immunity was the problem: Haitians had no resistance to the imported disease because they’d never been exposed to it before. That nightmare continues. Though cases have tapered off, there are indications the disease is once again on the rise.
Katz calculates how the UN could cover the damages:
Cholera, which spreads through contamination of food or water, can be prevented with good sanitation. It’s even easier to treat: Medicine is usually not required, just the speedy replacement of lost fluids. The U.N. estimates it would cost $2.27 billion to provide the necessary infrastructure in Haiti over the next 10 years. The victims’ lawyers have asked for up to $100,000 in additional compensation for each of the families they represent. In all, the total cost would probably be shy of $3 billion—a bargain compared with the economic, social, and personal damage the epidemic has brought. To put that figure in perspective, [the peacekeeping mission]’s budget for 2013 alone—again, a quarter of which is provided by the United States—is $644 million. Reduce the size of the nine-year-old peacekeeping mission, which after all is patrolling a country that’s not at war, and you could start paying that debt down quickly.
Katz’s recent dispatch on the ground from Haiti is here.
(Photo: Doudelime Lamarre, 7, lays on her cot as she is being treated for cholera in an International Red Cross cholera treatment facility in the slum neighborhood of Cite Soleil on November 25, 2010 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. By Joe Raedle/Getty Images)