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U.N. Says It Will Investigate Source Of Haitian Cholera Epidemic As Death Toll Rises

The U.N. is looking into establishing an independent commission to identify the source of Haiti’s cholera epidemic, Alain Le Roy, the U.N. under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, said on Wednesday, the Associated Press/Washington Post reports. “We are urging and we are calling for what we could call an international panel,” Le Roy said at a news conference at the U.N. headquarters in New York. “We are in discussions with (the U.N. World Health Organization) to find the best experts to be in a panel to be completely independent,” he added.

“U.N. officials initially dismissed speculation about the involvement of [U.N.] peacekeepers,” the news service writes. “The announcement indicates that concern about the epidemic’s origin has now reached the highest levels of the global organization” (Katz, 12/15).

“There have been widespread media reports claiming that U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal, serving with the UN stabilization mission in Haiti, are the likely source of the epidemic, with infected water having spread from their base into a nearby tributary of the Artibonite River,” the U.N. News Centre writes. Le Roy said, “There is no consensus among scientists on this issue.” He also noted that the none of the Nepalese peacekeepers had tested positive for cholera or displayed cholera symptoms. He added that different analyses of water from their camp had not picked up the cholera strain that triggered the epidemic (12/15).

Meanwhile, “Haiti’s cholera death toll has jumped by some 210 people, with more than 2,400 now having succumbed to the epidemic, health officials said Wednesday,” Agence France-Presse reports.

“The health ministry in its latest figures listed 2,405 deaths since the infections began in the impoverished nation in mid-October. More than 54,500 people have been treated in hospital, out of a total of 109,196 cases,” the news service writes. Last week, daily death tolls were near 26 or 27, suggesting “that the waterborne disease could be relinquishing its grip on the quake-hit nation,” AFP writes. “Those numbers from last week had represented the first time for a month that authorities had recorded less than 30 people dying from cholera on two consecutive days – after daily November tolls of 60, 70 and even 80 and above” (12/15).

In related news, the Miami Herald/Seattle Times looks at the factors that have led cholera to flourish in Haiti. “The cholera outbreak ravaging Haiti is part of a worldwide pandemic that began 50 years ago and should be easy to stop – with technology developed in the 1800s. Haiti’s poor sanitation system, however, makes the country vulnerable to a disease that first swept the United States and other parts of the world more than 150 years ago. The current global wave of cholera – the seventh in history – made its way from Asia to Africa to Latin America, and is back for its second strike at this hemisphere,” according to the newspaper (Robles, 12/15).

Former President Clinton Expresses Confidence In Haitian Reconstruction, Rebuffs Call To Suspend Aid

Former President Bill Clinton “declared his confidence in Haiti’s post-quake reconstruction effort Wednesday” during a one-day visit to Port-au-Prince, the Associated Press reports. “The U.N. special envoy to Haiti traveled to the troubled country a day after the interim reconstruction commission of which he is co-chairman was forced to hold its meeting in the neighboring Dominican Republic after violence broke out following Haiti’s disputed Nov. 28 presidential election,” the AP writes.

The meeting “approved some $430 million in projects. But it was more notable for anger over the slow pace of reconstruction and a letter from frustrated Haitian members who said they were left out of decisionmaking and complained approved projects ‘do not advance the reconstruction of Haiti and long-term development,'” the news service notes.  

“I share their frustration, but I think they will see a big increase in the pace of movement next year,” Clinton said at a news conference. There will be permanent housing for hundreds of thousands of Haitians next year, Clinton said (12/15). He also said aid to help Haiti rebuild from the January earthquake should not be suspended, despite concerns over the recent elections, Reuters reports.

In response to a question about whether aid to Haiti should be halted, Clinton said, “In my opinion, nothing has yet happened which justifies that.” Reuters notes Senator Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) recent call to “suspend direct aid to Haiti’s government until it ensured a fair and democratic outcome to the elections” (Delva, 12/15). 

In related news, the Miami Herald reports on an International Office of Migration study, which found that the populations of Haitians living in tents since the earthquake dropped to 1 million from a high of 1.5 million in July.

“The largest decrease took place in Leogane, a city 20 miles west of Port-au-Prince that had 185 camps in September and 125 last month,” the Miami Herald writes. According to the report, “The decrease is even more dramatic in semi-urban and rural areas and towns away from Greater Port-au-Prince, such as Leogane, Petit Goave, Gressier, Grand Goave and Jacmel, where the population in camps has decreased by over 50 percent and in the case of Leogane, by two-thirds.”

“We started noticing a large drop in September and October, and that kept accelerating,” said Leonard Doyle, spokesman for the International Office of Migration in Haiti. “I think communities are beginning to be rebuilt. This is the tipping point. People are starting to get the idea that they need to start moving on,” Doyle said.

The article looks at other reasons people have started leaving the camps. Julie Sell, a spokesperson for the American Red Cross, “said the numbers cited in the report were a positive sign, but it’s too optimistic to think they mean all camps will be cleared any time soon. ‘There are still large swaths of the city covered in rubble and will be for some time,’ she said. ‘Not everyone will have a better place to move right away'” (Robles, 12/15).

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