The United Nations said for the first time today it will compensate victims of the Haiti cholera outbreak that UN workers caused in 2010 by giving cash payments to affected communities.
The outbreak killed more than 9,000 and infected more than 800,000 people. It began when UN peacekeepers from Nepal, who were in the country to provide aid following a devastating earthquake, dumped infected water into a river, contaminating the water supply. The disease has now resurfaced following Hurricane Matthew.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has fought to protect the UN from legal claims over the outbreak. When victims of the outbreak tried to sue the UN, lawyers from the US argued on behalf of the UN in front of a US federal appeals court that a diplomatic treaty makes the UN immune from such claims, according to The New York Times.
Following the public release of a confidential report commissioned by the UN that found that cholera “would not have broken out but for the actions of the United Nations,” the UN did acknowledge a “moral responsibility” to the people of Haiti, but stopped short of apologizing.
"Over the past year the UN has become convinced it needs to do much more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak and the suffering of those affected by cholera,” Farhan Haq, a spokesman representing Ban, told the Times.
But now, with two months before he finishes his term as Secretary General, Ban has proposed giving $400 million in the form of a cholera response package that would provide $200 million cash to communities that suffered the most and $200 million for sanitation and education, according to the Times. The money would provide about $21,000 for each of the estimated victims, according to the Times.
The report characterized the package as being crafted “in part to repair the damage that cholera has done to the reputation of the United Nations.”
“We want to do this because we think it’s the right thing to do for the Haitian people, but frankly speaking, it’s the right thing to do for the United Nations,” Jan Eliasson, the United Nations deputy secretary general, told the paper.
The UN hasn’t specified where the money will come from: it does not have $400 million for the package and will therefore rely on its donors to provide it.
Haiti had not seen any cases of cholera for nearly a century before hundreds of thousands in Haiti became sick with the deadly bacterial infection in 2010.
The cases were traced to the UN base, home to more that 450 peacekeepers who had previously been in Nepal, where a cholera outbreak was taking place.