PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Wednesday July 16, 2014, CMC – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for intensified efforts to ensure access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation in Haiti, as he launched a new UN-supported initiative and met with families affected by the cholera epidemic.
“As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I want to assure you that the United Nations and its partners are strongly committed to ending the epidemic as quickly as possible,” said Ban at a church service on Monday in the village of Los Palmas that has been ravaged by the epidemic.
“We are making progress, and we will continue to pursue with all our energy, our goal of freeing the country from the disease,” he added, describing his visit as a “necessary pilgrimage”.
“I know that the epidemic has caused much anger and fear. I know that the disease continues to affect an unacceptable number of people,” Ban continued. “Whatever I say today will not lessen the despair you have felt over the loss of your loved ones.”
But the UN chief did not acknowledge the global body’s alleged complicity in causing the epidemic, the subject of at least two lawsuits filed in the United States.
The UN said there have been about 703,000 suspected cases of cholera and an estimated 8,500 deaths since the beginning of the epidemic in October 2010.
The disease had been absent from the earthquake-ravaged country for nearly 100 years until after the devastating January 2010 earthquake.
Forensic studies have identified the cholera bacteria as an Asian strain carried by Nepalese members of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Haiti, known by the French-acronym, MINUSTAH.
The UN, however, said it has initiated a system-wide effort to support the Haitian Government to fight the disease.
Ban has sought to raise US$2.2 billion to eradicate cholera.
In December 2012, he launched an initiative for the elimination of the disease in Haiti and the Dominican Republic that focuses on prevention, treatment and education, as well as infrastructure planning for the long-term.
The UN said concerted Haitian and international efforts have succeeded in significantly reducing the toll of the epidemic, and there has been a 74 per cent reduction of the number of cases in the first five months of 2014, compared to the same period last year.
However, despite the progress made, the UN said structural issues, including weak water, sanitation and health systems, enable cholera, acute diarrhoea or other waterborne diseases to persist.
While in Los Palmas, the Secretary-General launched, with Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, the country’s “Total Sanitation Campaign”, which aims to scale up sanitation and hygiene interventions in rural areas.
Ban described the campaign as “a development milestone” for the country, where half the population lacks access to adequate sanitation systems.