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U.S. presidential candidate puts U.N. on the spot for cholera in Haiti

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley takes the stage at the 2014 Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame. (Credit: Gregory Hauenstein/flickr)

The United Nations should take responsibility for the cholera outbreak its peacekeepers caused, says one U.S. presidential hopeful. In a CNN op-ed former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley called out the U.N. and described how he would use transparency and accountability as a cornerstone for his foreign policy if elected.

“The United Nations, which has done so much to alleviate human suffering in the world, should pursue a similar approach. Some disasters, like earthquakes, are acts of God. But when they are made worse by human error, those responsible should acknowledge and correct their mistakes,” he wrote.

Yesterday, the head of Haiti’s U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Enzo di Taranto, warned that a variety of problems are converging in Haiti. One of which is the cholera outbreak, which has killed more than 8,800 people since it began in October 2010. This year alone has seen more than 20,000 cases and 170 deaths.

Despite evidence showing that Nepalese peacekeepers brought cholera to Haiti, the U.N. continues to deny responsibility. It backed a $2.2 billion plan to rid Haiti of cholera, a disease not seen in the country for 100 years and possibly ever.

Cholera victims sued the U.N., demanding that it pay for the recovery, admit guilt and pay reparations to affected families. The U.N. said it is immune from such a suit, which was later thrown out by one U.S. court. An open letter from July from 154 Haitian-American diaspora organizations and political, religious and other community leaders asked the U.N. to meet the three requests.

“The U.N. should not be permitted to evade accountability on this issue,” according to the letter, addressed to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. “It is imperative for the U.S. government to ensure the U.N. complies with its legal obligations to install the water and sanitation infrastructure necessary to control cholera and compensate the victims.”

O’Malley agrees that the U.S. needs to take a greater role in addressing the crisis, saying that the U.S. must take a “greater leadership role in our own hemisphere” by providing better funding for the U.N. to do its work.

“Healthy, functioning and stable societies in our half of the world are squarely in our national interests,” O’Malley wrote. “Cholera has already spread to other countries – with one case reported in Florida. We must ensure that agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have the resources they need to address crises before they reach our borders.”

O’Malley cites the open letter as evidence of the “need for justice and greater resources.” His pressure puts the issue on the radar screen for the U.S. electorate and his primary opponents Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

That letter to the U.N. calls into question the U.N.’s commitment for justice and resources.

“We find the U.N.’s response that it is ‘focusing on water and sanitation’ disingenuous. In over four years, the U.N. has raised only 13 percent of the funds needed for its plan to eliminate cholera, while it has spent much more over that time on soldiers in Haiti.”


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]