Start Task Force to Address Haiti's Water, Sanitation, and Cholera Crisis

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Petition Letter Seeking Support

Dear Secretary General Ban Ki-moon:

I recently read a three-part article in Truthout entitled Withholding Water: Cholera, Prejudice and the Right to Water in Haiti by Deepa Panchang. The article notes, "how [in Haiti] neglect of humanitarian standards and lack of commitment to human rights led to deliberate decisions to cut [water] services that left hundreds of thousands without water and sanitation, thus allowing cholera to spike" and it examines how "NGO personnel’s negative perceptions about residents of the displacement camps, and how these perceptions abetted their decisions to deny services." The UN is overseeing these operations but is not using a human rights framework that is inclusive of Resolution 64/292 which declares water and sanitation a human right for all persons. Current water/sanitation decision-making is discriminating against marginalized groups in Haiti, thus putting them at even greater risk of contracting cholera as their access to water and sanitation is being denied and/or compromised. The article also states that, "The Pan-American Health Organization has stated that cholera could infect 200,000-250,000 this year in Haiti" (p.1).

From what I can gather, the United Nations organized cluster meetings with NGOs to oversee water and sanitation efforts. As stated by Panchang (2012), " NGOs began coordinating among themselves through the UN humanitarian system, which hosts what are dubbed 'cluster meetings'" and the NGOs divided the city up into "slices of NGO turf, with each NGO agreeing to take responsibility for water and sanitation in certain camps." Unfortunately, some areas are getting relief water and sanitation while other marginalized groups have been given less consideration; the United Nations needs to intervene and ensure that Resolution 64/292 (right to water and sanitation) is implemented using a human rights framework during relief efforts, otherwise various camps and sectors will be severely hit.

The UN needs to play a strong leadership role in this situation and it needs to establish a human rights framework for implementing Resolution 64/292, this emergent situation in Haiti would be an ideal situation to start the process. A human rights framework to implement Resolution 64/292, in this case in disaster relief and situations of serious socioeconomic decline, could inform, support and enhance NGO work. NGO's must be careful that they aren't reproducing the same human rights violations that have led to the squalour, poverty and deaths they are combatting. The United Nations should immediately establish a task force to investigate discriminatory policies that are resulting in the serious lack of water/sanitation for marginalized groups in Haiti. To do nothing now the UN would be complicit in policies that may lead to thousands of more deaths.

I am further concerned with allegations regarding how/where the cholera epidemic started. According to some sources, "At least 7,000 Haitians have died from cholera since it was introduced to Haiti by U.N. troops in October 2010. More than 530,000 people have been infected ... the UN's faulty sanitation system contaminated a tributary of the Artibonite River, the longest and most important river in Haiti. Even a UN panel has conceded this point. Bill Clinton, who serves as UN Special Envoy to Haiti, has admitted that UN troops were the "proximate cause" of the epidemic, and US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has acknowledged that the UN played a role. Yet, the UN refuses to accept formal responsibility and it has done little to help treat, prevent, and control the disease" (Just Foreign Policy petition). This further complicates the issue.

I strongly encourage the United Nations to show leadership and establish task forces on a) establishing a human rights framework to inform NGO efforts in Haiti b) respond more expeditiously to the water/sanitation issues given the potential souce of the outbreak and c) to create educational materials for UN officials, NGOs and other groups, on how to use a human rights framework when organizing water and sanitation (e.g., Resolution 64/292) efforts in cases of disaster to begin with, and secondly in terms of other circumstances where peoples are marginalized by various circumstances and/or policies. (e.g., poverty, race, geographic location).

Respectfully submitted.


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