Thursday, December 15, 2011

HAITI: Nigel Fisher says "we did it" about cholera, than tells the Haitians to sue the UN if they can (will never work)


Haiti: Why did Nigel Fisher say that?

Earlier today I linked to an excellent BBC News story by Mark Doyle: Haiti's cholera row with UN rumbles on. And this passage really struck me:

In the capital Port-au-Prince the UN's head of Humanitarian Affairs in Haiti, Nigel Fisher, said the response to the petition was in the hands of lawyers at the UN Secretariat in New York.
But he told me; "I think we all regret the breakout of this thing and I don't think the UN has ever denied the possibility [that it could have been at fault]."
"However I would like to know with some certainty what the source was," he added.

I admit this passage surprised me. Nigel Fisher is a very well-regarded man. He has been on the scene in Haiti sinceshortly after the earthquake.

So why would he say the UN hasn't denied the possibility of being responsible for the cholera outbreak, when the UN has indeed denied it? And by none other than Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for Ban Ki-Moon himself? Surely Mr. Fisher must have remembered that.

As early as October 27, 2010, journalist Jonathan M. Katzwas raising the question of the Nepali responsibility for cholera, and I was recollecting that Kathmandu had been dealing with a cholera outbreak in September.

By the end of October 2010 I posted a report that MINUSTAH was "probing claims" that the Nepali camp's poor sanitation was the source, and Haitians themselves were demanding the Nepalis leave the country. And that was early times, when the poor Ministry of Public Health and Population was planning on having to deal with just 200,000 cases over the next year.

Last spring, the UN's report came out, blaming a "confluence of circumstances," mostly the Haitians' unsanitary habits, for the outbreak. By now the Pan American Health Organization was in disarray and never really recovered. (See its Haiti Emergency Blog, which hasn't been updated in over a month.) And since PAHO is just the Western Hemisphere branch of the World Health Organization, the integrity of WHO itself was now compromised by events in Haiti and the UN's denial of responsibility.

Long before then, I had written in The Tyee about the UN's abject failures in Haiti. I followed it up with another article, noting that the UN was fond of saying that the source of the epidemic didn't matter as long it was fought effectively. This was a disingenuous position, and Mr. Fisher says something similar when he says he would "like to know with some certainty what the source was."

I am going on at some length, with a lot of links, to make this point: The UN is doing a terrible job in Haiti. Its servants and agencies are trying to mislead the rest of the world about what is going on in Haiti, and why. They are doing so when evidence to refute them is easily available online. And if that is the case, how can we trust the UN, or WHO, or OCHA, or UNICEF, in other public-health disasters as well?

Just today, OCHA said the UN needs US$7.7 billion to to help 51 million people in 16 countries. Why the hell should any country give the UN a dime if it won't admit when it screws up?

As the great journalist I.F. Stone famously said, "All governments lie." No doubt nongovernmental organizations bend the truth too, when they see the need.

But this is not just a question of political mendacity. This is a question of medical ethics.


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