UN PANEL: HAITI CHOLERA STRAIN PROBABLY S. ASIAN
UNITED NATIONS — A cholera epidemic that has killed over 4,850 people in Haiti bears striking similarities to a South Asian strain but a UN investigation said that Nepalese peacekeepers were not at fault.
A panel of international health experts on Wednesday said the source of the epidemic was "debatable" but that the United Nations "worldwide" must change the way it handles peacekeepers' health.
The report said the outbreak "was caused by bacteria introduced into Haiti as a result of human activity." But it stressed the epidemic was not deliberate.
The four experts said evidence "overwhelmingly supports" the conclusion that the Haiti epidemic was due to the contamination of a river near the Nepalese camp "with a pathogenic strain of current South Asian type" of cholera.
Water, sanitation and health system "deficiencies" led to the epidemic spreading across Haiti, which is also recovering from an earthquake that killed about 220,000 people and political strife.
About 300,000 people have already been made sick by cholera and a group of US experts warned in March that 800,000 Haitians would fall sick this year.
The focus of the investigation has been a camp of the UN mission known as MINUSTAH at Mirebalais near the Meye River, a tributary of the Artibonite River. Nepalese troops were based at the camp.
Human waste from Mirebalais and two other UN camps was dumped each day in a local septic pit. "There is no fence around the site, and children were observed playing and animals roaming in the area around the pit," said the report.
A branch of the Meye tributary is just down the hill from the pit, which is in an area "susceptible to flooding and overflow into the tributary during rainfall."
"The sanitation conditions at the Mirebalais MINUSTAH camp were not sufficient to prevent contamination of the Meye tributary system with human fecal waste," the report said.
The experts said peacekeepers should be treated before leaving their countries and called for better staff training and improved waste treatment at UN camps.
The cholera epidemic erupted in October and authorities have since reported more than 4,850 deaths. The disease had not previously been known in Haiti for a century.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon set up the panel to produce the study after violent protests in Haiti against the peacekeepers.
Ban said in a statement that he will "carefully consider its findings and recommendations." The secretary general will set up a UN task force to ensure a prompt follow-up.
His office said Ban "reaffirms the continuing commitment of the United Nations to stand shoulder to shoulder with the government and people of Haiti in the ongoing fight against the cholera epidemic."