A cholera patient receives treatment at a Doctors Without Borders clinic center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 7, 2012. The world rallied to confront Haiti's cholera, but the mission was muddled by the United Nations' apparent role in setting off the epidemic and its unwillingness to acknowledge it.

Damon Winter, Associated Press/NYT

U.N. remains indifferent to tragedy it caused in Haiti

  • Article by: New York Times Editorial
  • March 18, 2013 - 11:33 AM

The aid group Doctors Without Borders said last Tuesday that the cholera crisis in Haiti is getting worse, for the most unnecessary and appalling of reasons: a lack of money and basic medical supplies.

The disease has killed 8,000 people and sickened 649,000 since October 2010. International efforts to defeat the epidemic include a 10-year, $2.2 billion plan for major investments in clean water, sanitation and medical infrastructure. But that is a project for the future, one that isn't even funded yet.

Doctors Without Borders says people are dying now, needlessly, because attention and money are running out. Aid groups are leaving. Staff members at some treatment centers haven't been paid in months, equipment is wearing out, and sanitary precautions are being abandoned.

The death rate has reached an intolerably high 4 percent in some places, the group said. And the rainy season is about to make things much more difficult.

The dreadful backdrop to this emergency is an abdication of responsibility by organizations that have pledged to help Haiti, particularly the United Nations.

The United Nations said last month that it would not pay financial compensation for the epidemic's victims, claiming immunity. This is despite overwhelming evidence that the United Nations introduced the disease, which was unknown in Haiti until it suddenly appeared near a base where U.N. peacekeepers had let sewage spill into a river.

Though the United Nations has done much good in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake, its handling of cholera is looking like a fiasco. While it insists that it has no legal liability for cholera victims, it must not duck its moral obligations. That means mobilizing doctors and money to save lives now, and making sure the eradication plan gets all the money and support it needs.

Its record so far is dubious. A U.N. appeal last year for $24 million for cholera programs ended the year only 32 percent financed, and in December, the United Nations said it would contribute $23.5 million to the new 10-year plan -- about 1 percent of what is needed.

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