UN secretary general speaks of ‘heartbreak’ at devastation after frustrated residents clash with UN peacekeepers
The Associated Press
he UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, visited victims of hurricane Matthew on Saturday, saying the destruction was “heartbreaking,” and renewing a pledge to help the nation cope with an outbreak of cholera that was introduced by UN peacekeepers.
Ban’s brief visit came as victims of the storm continued to express frustration – sometimes violently – at delays in aid about a week-and-a-half since Matthew hit south-west Haiti with 145mph (235 km/h) winds, killing 1,000 people and demolishing or damaging tens of thousands of homes.
“I met so many displaced persons, young people, women who were pregnant and sick people. It was heartbreaking,” he said, describing his tour of an emergency shelter in the town of Les Cayes packed with families whose homes were destroyed.
Shortly before Ban’s helicopter was due to land in Les Cayes, a clash broke out between rock-throwing residents and peacekeepers at a UN base there. About 100 frustrated residents began hurling rocks when trucks ferrying food aid arrived. Haitian police officers and UN peacekeepers scattered the group with teargas. Calm was restored as Ban’s helicopter approached.
In recent days, Associated Press reporters have observed a number of skirmishes between Haitians in hard-hit areas seeking emergency aid distributed by international and local organisations.
At the close of his roughly 4-hour stop in Haiti, Ban told reporters at Port-au-Prince’s airport that a cholera-focused trust fund announced in recent weeks was part of the UN’s “new approach” to helping Haitian families who lost loved ones since the waterborne disease was introduced here in October 2010.
The UN said the fund is designed to help Haiti overcome cholera and build stronger water, sanitation and health systems..
There’s long been ample evidence that cholera was introduced to the nation’s biggest river by inadequately treated sewage from a UN peacekeeping base about 10 months after Haiti’s devastating earthquake.
But the UN only acknowledged in August that it played a role in introducing cholera to Haiti and vowed to aid victims in the impoverished Caribbean nation, which has experienced the worst outbreak of the disease in recent history. UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said that that “the United Nations has a moral responsibility to the victims.”
UN officials at one point said they were seeking about $181 million for the fund, but Ban mentioned no figures on Saturday as he vowed to help the families of victims and “most of all prevent and stop this cholera epidemic.” He acknowledged, however, that international funding is so far falling far short.
“I know that the world economic situation is not favourable, and I know that there is some donor fatigue by certain countries,” he told reporters at the close of his visit.
Beatrice Lindstrom, a human rights lawyer with the nonprofit Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, said before the visit that activists were hopeful that Ban would “fully acknowledge the UN’s responsibility for introducing cholera to Haiti.”
“The need for a new UN response that both controls and eliminates cholera and compensates the victims who have suffered so much is now more dire than ever,” she said.
Health authorities say they have been struggling with a surge of patients with cholera in the wake of the category 4 storm that struck on 4 October in a rugged region of southwest Haiti that is home to more than one million people.
The wreckage left behind by the hurricane has created perfect conditions for spreading the waterborne disease. Rivers and outdoor latrines overflowed across the mountainous landscape.
Cholera, caused by bacteria that produce severe diarrhea and is contracted by drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food, is easily treatable if caught in time and the proper treatment is provided. But it can lead to a rapid, agonising death through complete dehydration.
Ban departed Haiti for Ecuador’s capital of Quito in a UN jet on Saturday evening.
Haiti: Aid trucks looted as UN chief assesses hurricane damage
Angry Haitians looted aid trucks as the UN secretary general visited parts of the country hit by Hurricane Matthew, which killed 900 people.
A woman stands next to two Brazilian peacekeepers as they secure the perimeter of the Lycee Philippe Guerrier before the visit of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon after Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, October 15, 2016.REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
Ban Ki-moon said he witnessed a looting incident in Les Cayes, where he promised more aid to Haiti. He also urged countries to donate more.
Officials say more than 1.4 million people urgently need humanitarian help.
There are also fears of a cholera outbreak, with spikes in cases and deaths reported in the south west.
The waterborne disease reached the island via Nepalese UN troops after the deadly earthquake in 2010, causing the deaths of nearly 10,000 people.
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Tensions have been high as help has yet to reach many families whose crops and water supplies have been destroyed.
Haitian police and UN peacekeepers used tear gas to disperse a group of 100 residents who attacked humanitarian convoys in Les Cayes on Saturday.
“We understand the impatience and the anger of the population who are waiting for emergency relief. We are doing all we can to facilitate the arrival of the assistance soon as possible,” Mr Ban said.
He flew over areas hit by the hurricane alongside Prime Minister Enex Jean-Charles.
“I was very, very sad when we saw the complete devastation. But people the world over stand with you,” the UN chief added.
“We are going to mobilize as many resources and as much medical support as we can to first of all stop the cholera epidemic and second support the families of the victims.”
Some 120,000 homes were either damaged or destroyed when Category Four Hurricane Matthew swept through on 4 October with winds of 145mph (230km/h).
Mr Ban visited a shelter in Les Cayes and told the displaced “kembe fem” in Creole, meaning “hang in there”.
In the town, one of the worst affected by Matthew, the streets have been cleaned and businesses have reopened.
But power, transport and communications links are still difficult in other areas.
Last week, Mr Ban called for a “massive response” to help the country, the poorest in the Americas.
The UN launched an emergency appeal for nearly $120m (£97m) in aid, but just a fraction of it has been raised.
Mr Ban acknowledged there was aid “fatigue”, but urged countries to help Haiti.
Haiti’s devestating cholera is belived to have caused about 10,000 deaths in the last decade. Photograph by Thony Belizaire, AFP, Getty Images
Despite a history of overcoming monumental odds, the nation of Haiti seems pushed toward its limits in the wake of Hurricane Matthew – and a list of other serious setbacks facing the Caribbean nation.
The country – the only nation in the world established in a successful slave revolt when it broke free from France’s colonial yoke in 1804 – has at times been isolated and interfered with by world powers and survived the reigns of brutal political leaders at home. But adversity has continued test the Haitian people after Hurricane Matthew, which has killed at least 1,000 persons and left many homeless.
Effects from the devastating 2010 earthquake still exist, such as a severe shortage of permanent housing. And standing water left in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, has sparked a deadly upsurge of a cholera outbreak — originally caused when a main river was contaminated by sewage from an encampment of UN peacekeepers from Nepal on earthquake duty in 2010.
Cholera affects both children and adults and can kill within hours if left untreated. International health organizations are working to aid health facilities which were damaged in the hurricane. The waterborne disease has affected more than 770,000 people and about 10,000 people have died since 2010.
In December 2012, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced a $2.27 billion initiative to help eradicate cholera in Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic, according to the Associated Press., which reported that the plan has been greatly underfunded plan – providing only $307 million since last November.
Ban Ki-moon made brief visit to Haiti yesterday, touring of an emergency shelter in the town of Les Cayes, calling the situation “heartbreaking” and renewing a pledge to help the nation cope with a deadly scourge of cholera that was introduced by U.N. peacekeepers, reported the Associated Press.
But advocates for victims of the UN-caused cholera epidemic in Haiti expressed shock that the Secretary-General did not acknowledge responsibility for UN peacekeepers introducing the epidemic in 2010.
“It is outrageous for the Secretary-General to come to Haiti, see how much we are suffering, and once again refuse to acknowledge what everybody in Haiti knows that he knows to be a scientific fact,” said Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, which has led a campaign for justice and reparations for victims of cholera since 2011. “The UN’s own experts concluded – five years ago – that the UN brought cholera to Haiti. But the Secretary-General pretends that Haitians do not know that.”
In light of Hurricane Matthew’s damage and the cholera uptick, Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand last week asked Department of Homeland Security and the State Department officials to temporarily stop the deportations of Haitian nationals and grant them Temporary Protected Status, allowing them in the U.S. to stay beyond their visa and work legally.
Tags: Aid trucks looted, Ban Ki-moon, cholera, cholera epidemic, Department of Homeland Security, Haiti, health system, Hurricane Matthew, Kirsten Gillibrand, Les Cayes, rock throwing, sanitation, Schumer, teargas, UN peacekeepers, UN secretary general, water