By Deepa Panchang
May 31, 2012
“Cholera is something they sent,” says graffiti on Port-au-Prince walls, “to finish killing off the rest of us.”
Scientists have shown that the cholera pathogen came to Haiti with foreign UN troops who carried the bacteria in their bodies, and whose military base was dumping its sewage into a nearby river. The imported disease has claimed more than 7,000 lives and continues to ravage communities across Haiti. Despite billions in post-earthquake aid dollars and hundreds of humanitarian NGOs, the country still faces a dearth of water and sanitation services, further fueling the epidemic. Nearly half a million internally displaced people (IDPs) still live since the 2010 earthquake in makeshift camps under tarps, torn tents, and pieces of old fabric and cardboard, an ideal environment for cholera. The situation raises serious questions about the humanitarian mechanism and its priorities. Why do so many people still lack the most basic of services? What factors are guiding humanitarian agencies’ decisions to provide or withhold them?
Read more about the results of a study answering these questions in this multi-part series. The first article focuses on how neglect of humanitarian standards and lack of commitment to human rights led to deliberate decisions to cut services that left hundreds of thousands without water and sanitation, thus allowing cholera to spike. In the next article, we will examine NGO personnel’s negative perceptions about residents of the displacement camps, and how these perceptions abetted their decisions to deny services. The final piece takes a step back to look at the political dynamics that have historically left large gaps in water and sanitation infrastructure in Haiti, and how these trends continue. Throughout, we highlight grassroots groups that are working towards Haitian-driven alternatives.