Haitian Cholera Epidemic No Place For ‘Good-Guy/Bad-Guy Distinctions’

In this Reuters opinion piece, finance blogger Felix Salmon responds to a New York Times (NYT) article published on Monday in which journalist Deborah Sontag examines the global response to Haiti’s cholera epidemic. He writes, “There’s no doubt that Haiti’s cholera epidemic was massive and tragic, and that the response to it could have been better, in an ideal world. But Sontag barely attempts to address the question of why the response was suboptimal. … Rather, [she] spends a huge amount of effort tracking down, on the one hand, purely anecdotal stories of individual Haitians who were exposed to the disease, and on the other hand, the detailed story of whether and how the outbreak could be traced back to a group of Nepalese peacekeepers on the island.”

Salmon addresses a number of specific points made in the Sontag article and continues, “The obvious — and true — conclusion is that this story does not lend itself easily to good-guy/bad-guy distinctions and dichotomies. … The victims, of course, are the innocent; meanwhile, the guilty, in this telling, would seem to include the CDC, the U.N., and especially the Nepalese peacekeepers. And that does a huge disservice to all of those organizations.” He concludes, “[F]ailed states like Haiti are hard to fix. And that’s the central problem with the way the NYT is treating the country — as though it’s a fixable problem, as opposed to a much more intractable one. Victims can be identified, and cholera epidemics traced back to a single source. But when the NYT runs this story under a headline blaming ‘Global Failures,’ that implies a baseline of success which is frankly impossible to achieve” (4/2).