Haiti electoral unrest could hurt cholera fight

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Tuesday November 30, 2010 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called for a speedy solution to the political crisis in Haiti after Sunday’s first round of elections, warning that worsening security would hamper efforts to fight the cholera epidemic in a country already devastated by January’s earthquake.

“The Secretary-General is concerned following the incidents that marked the first round of the presidential and legislative elections in Haiti on Sunday,” a statement issued by Mr. Ban’s spokesman said.

“The Secretary-General looks forward to a solution to the political crisis in the country and calls on the Haitian people and all political actors to remain calm, since any deterioration in the security situation will have an immediate impact on the efforts to contain the ongoing cholera epidemic.”

Some of the 18 presidential candidates have repudiated the vote and their supporters have mounted protests.

Meanwhile, the number of cholera cases and deaths continues to rise with no significant shift in the overall situation, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported yesterday, noting that the north of the country remains the area with the highest caseload.

As of the end of last week, more than 1,600 people have died and some 50,000 have been infected since the epidemic began in October.

In the capital 50 deprived neighbourhoods, home to around 1 million people, are especially vulnerable to cholera – which is spread through contaminated food and water – due to poor access to safe water, inadequate sanitation and high population density. Preparations are in place across the country to respond more forcefully as the epidemic spreads, OCHA said.

The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the regional arm of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), estimated that as many as 400,000 people could become ill, with half of those cases in the coming three months. Calculations reflect a worst case scenario that is avoidable if all sectors of society and health partners are able to step up their actions.

Working closely with PAHO/WHO, OCHA has put together a list of the infrastructure, institutional and personnel needs to respond to the epidemic. There are currently 40 Cholera Treatment Centres (CTCs) and 61 Cholera Treatment Units (CTUs). More are needed, with humanitarian partners working to increase the numbers and bed capacity.

To respond to needs for water chlorination in households, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has 190 million Aquatabs and 1.5 million bars of soap in the pipeline, and nutritional efforts are focused on mitigating the impact of cholera on children under five, pregnant and/or lactating women, and other vulnerable groups by maximizing prevention efforts.

Haiti is still struggling to recover from the January quake, which killed some 200,000 people and displaced more than one million others, many of whom are still living in crowded camps.

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