U.N. chief flies to Haiti to address cholera crisis

by Reuters
Monday, 14 July 2014 16:04 GMT

A woman sweeps debris from the sidewalk onto the street, which is frequently flooded, in Port-au-Prince September 4, 2012. REUTERS/Swoan Parker

Image Caption and Rights Information
Evidence shows Nepalese peacekeepers brought the disease to Haiti but the U.N. has so far refused to accept responsibility for the outbreak that has killed 8,500 people

By David Adams

MIAMI, July 14 (Reuters) - United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon flew to Haiti on Monday to discuss efforts to alleviate a cholera epidemic that has killed thousands and has been linked to the U.N.'s own peacekeepers.

Ban is seeking support for a $2.2 billion, 10-year cholera-elimination campaign that he launched in December 2012 with the presidents of Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic.

The United Nations has so far not accepted responsibility for the outbreak that has killed 8,500 people and infected more than 700,000 since October 2010, despite evidence that it was brought to Haiti by Nepalese peacekeepers stationed near a major river.

Lawyers have filed three lawsuits against the United Nations seeking compensation for Haitian victims of the epidemic.

"Regardless of what the legal implication may be, as the secretary general of the United Nations and as a person, I feel very sad," Ban told the Miami Herald in comments published on Monday.

"I believe that the international community, including the United Nations, has a moral responsibility to help the Haitian people stem the further spread of this cholera epidemic."

Donors had been slow to respond to the cholera elimination campaign, which he plans to promote during his visit, Ban told the paper.

While in Haiti he will visit a village in the Central Department along with Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe to launch a campaign to improve sanitation in rural areas.

He will also meet with the local community and with families which were affected by cholera, the United Nations said in a statement announcing the trip.

Cholera, which had not been documented in Haiti in almost 100 years prior to the outbreak, is an infection that causes severe diarrhea that can lead to dehydration and death, and is caused by poor sanitation.

Ban also plans to travel to the Dominican Republic for talks with President Danilo Medina and will address a joint session of Congress.

The Nepalese troops were stationed near a tributary of the Artibonite River and discharged raw sewage that carried a strain of cholera, sparking the epidemic, the lawsuit said.

An independent panel appointed by Ban to study the epidemic issued a 2011 report that did not determine conclusively how the cholera was introduced to Haiti. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said evidence strongly suggested U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal were the source.

Some senior U.N. officials, including human rights chief Navi Pillay, have said Haiti's cholera victims should be compensated. (Writing by David Adams; Editing by Jim Loney)

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