The plan to eradicate cholera in Haiti and the Dominican Republic as revealed today at the U.N. is a “welcome step,” but “falls short,” as the key components of water and sanitation infrastructure upgrades would be “needlessly delayed,” Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said today. Weisbrot noted that the plan – which envisions eradication of cholera from the island of Hispaniola by 2022, has benchmarks for “slow progress” on these infrastructure needs in its first three years.
“The cholera epidemic is a humanitarian emergency. Just since the rainy season began in April, more than 700 people have been killed. And this emergency was caused by an institution – the United Nations, via its troops stationed in Haiti – that has taken a key role in formulating this plan,” Weisbrot said. “But the plan does not treat cholera like an emergency. The key factor in stopping the deaths – ensuring that people have safe drinking water and proper sanitation – would see slow progress under this plan.”
According to drafts seen by CEPR, in the first years 2013 – 2015, the plan aims to achieve for example an “Accelerated rate of construction of semi-collective sewer systems and treatment wastewater plants” and “Accelerated rate of access to latrines, septic tanks, and sludge removal operations” in just “3 of 25 cities.”
Weisbrot also echoed a major concern that many health experts, aid groups, watchdog organizations and others have expressed: where the funding will come from. The plan is based on a $2.2 billion budget for Haiti and $70 million for the Dominican Republic, but only a small fraction of those funds – $238.5 million from the UN and bilateral and multilateral donors – have been committed so far. The UN notes that “It is estimated that Haiti will need $500 million over the next two years alone to implement its national operational plan for dealing with cholera.”
“It is unclear where the money for this is going to come from, and whether the international community, which has chronically underfunded responses to disasters in Haiti, will treat this any differently, and actually put up the cash to stop needless deaths,” Weisbrot added.
Weisbrot suggested one source of funding be the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, whose troops, according to the scientific studies, caused the epidemic. “The U.N. troops have no reason for being in Haiti,” he said. “There is no conflict there. The Mission’s $676 million budget should be spent instead on eliminating cholera.”
Weisbrot noted that the plan emerged more than two years after the cholera outbreak began, and that it likely resulted in part from pressure from protesters in Haiti, grassroots criticism, a lawsuit on behalf of cholera victims filed by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, and an international campaign calling on the U.N. to take responsibility. An new online petition hosted by Avaaz.org urging the U.N. to do just that has gathered thousands of signatures so far in just six days, and editorials and op-eds in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Guardian of London and the London Independent have all criticized the U.N. for failing to admit its role in causing the epidemic, and its failure to take action to curb and eventually eliminate cholera from the island.
“The plan itself – which importantly includes benchmarks for progress – is a welcome step, but it’s late and most importantly it’s too slow,” Weisbrot said. “It’s hard to imagine the U.N. and the international community responding this way to a similar crisis in almost any other country, but this is Haiti, so the usual standards and rules don’t seem to apply.”