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The man who’s suing the United Nations for bringing cholera to Haiti

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2100/Dormino

Haiti is ground zero for the humanitarian aid system. An influx of international aid agencies dates back decades; today, there are more NGOs per capita in Haiti than in any other country, except possibly India.

Then why did a virulent cholera epidemic break out after the earthquake? Why are over a hundred thousand Haitians who lost their homes in the temblor still homeless?

The answer to the first question might surprise you: the very people sent to Haiti to protect the country – United Nations peacekeepers –  brought the disease with them. That’s according to numerous scientific studies. The disease has killed at least 8,000 Haitians and will afflict many more during the rainy season this year. But the UN has never accepted responsibility for the epidemic. Its cholera health initiative remains woefully underfunded. I took the above photo, of graffiti equating the peacekeepers with cholera, about a year after the outbreak began.

Brian Concannon and his Haitian legal partner, Mario Joseph.

On this week’s podcast, Tom Murphy speaks to Brian Concannon, a lawyer who directs the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH). IJDH filed a legal complaint on behalf of 5,000 cholera victims in Haiti with the UN, which, after a more than yearlong delay, the UN rejected earlier this year.

What’s next? Concannon says IJDH is about to file a precedent-setting lawsuit against the UN in New York’s courts – and in Haitian and European courts. The suit is an attempt to force the UN to invest in clean water and sanitation in Haiti and compensate Haitians for their losses.

Concannon, who first came to Haiti long ago as a volunteer for the UN, has become disillusioned with the organization’s dismal role in Haiti’s travails over the last decade. But he’s buoyed by sustained media coverage of his firm’s efforts. He’s even optimistic that the new American ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, might be “an advocate for Haitians.”

I survived the earthquake and reported on the aftermath from Haiti for two years. So instead of headlines this week, I share a personal story of my experience with Claudy Charles – an earthquake survivor and single mom with five kids – who to this day lives beneath a tarp, instead of a home.

Listen below. Subscribe on iTunes if you haven’t yet. (And check out this Kickstarter appeal for a documentary film which exposes yet another way United Nations peacekeepers have harmed more than helped Haiti.)


About Author

Ansel Herz

Ansel Herz is a freelance multimedia journalist whose objective is to “go to where the silence is." His work has been published by ABC News, The Nation magazine, the New York Daily News, Al Jazeera English, Free Speech Radio News, Inter-Press News and many other publications. A Seattle native and survivor of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Ansel is producer of Humanosphere's podcast, among other things. You can contact him at ansel.herz[at] or follow him on Twitter @Ansel.