The leadership of the major disaster relief and aid organizations operating in Haiti allowed cholera to become a threat because they did not do their jobs.
The international community and Haitian government failed to sufficiently invest in clean water and sanitation after the quake. Now, living conditions are so deplorable and infrastructure so poor, the situation is ripe for a cholera epidemic. The cholera death toll is expected to soar into the thousands.
Cholera is caused by contamination of water or food with human feces containing the V. cholerae bacterium. Around 90% of cases produce mild or moderate diarrhea and dehydration. But among the severe cases, left untreated, as many as one out of every two people will die - some in a matter of hours. The World Health Organization reported that cholera outbreaks are "closely linked to inadequate environmental management" and that "typical at-risk areas include peri-urban slums, where basic infrastructure is not available, as well as camps for internally displaced people or refugees, where minimum requirements of clean water and sanitation are not met." See the WHO's fact sheet - http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs107/en
As many as 1.5 million people in Haiti are living in camps like these that were set up by relief and aid organizations and the Haitian government. At the very least, the fact that these organizations' leadership did not see cholera coming or failed to thwart it demonstrates a Katrina-esque failure of initiative.
Each of these organizations stated that they worked on Water and Sanitation after the Haiti earthquake. As of July 2010 - six months after the Haiti earthquake, American Red Cross raised $464 million and spent $117 million; Catholic Relief Services raised $140.8 million and spent $30.6 million; Oxfam America raised $29 million and spent $11 million; Salvation Army raised $20.5 million and spent $6.8 million; Food for the Poor raised $20.5 million and spent $10.7 million; Mercy Corps raised $14.9 million and spent almost $2.9 million; International Medical Corps raised $13 million and spent $4.5 million. World Vision raised $192 million worldwide and spent $56 million worldwide and CARE raised $36.5 million worldwide and spent $9.6 million worldwide. See the Chronicle of Philanthropy's accounting of how much was raised and how much was spent: http://philanthropy.com/article/How-Charities-Are-Helping/66243/
It is the individual aid workers on the ground that deserve our gratitude for doing the back-breaking work to help those in need. Meanwhile, the headquarters of these major relief/aid organizations raised billions of dollars using emotional, heart-wrenching and urgent appeals, prioritized how they spent that money, and apparently chose to spend less than half. Potentially billions of post-earthquake relief dollars, intended for the Haitian people, are just sitting in U.S. and foreign banks.
The question remains: Why are conditions so poor, after all that has been donated, that cholera is still such a threat?
If you donated, or you are a U.S. taxpayer and your tax dollars supported Haiti relief efforts, join with us to demand more transparency and public accountability in the Haiti relief efforts.
These stories by the BBC, CBS News, Newsweek, and The Wall Street Journal are also particularly compelling.