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Haiti: Cholera Outbreak Metaphor for No Accountability

Georgianne Nienaber: It will be astounding to see the media coverage of this event, should it unfold in all its potential horror, but where has the media been since the six-month anniversary in July?
haiti cathedral

Copyright © 2010 G. Nienaber

Cholera Outbreak in Haiti

It began as a trickle of questions and sketchy information last night. An email from a friend and colleague in Haiti: "Do you know what is happening at St. Marc's where we went last March?" Vague Twitter accounts about a "mysterious illness" in the Artibonite region, a rural area that had escaped most of the damage from the January 2010 earthquake that killed upwards of 300,000. Ironically, many victims of the devastation were sent to this region after the destruction of the infrastructure of Port-au-Prince. By 11:00 pm Google groups were reporting "potentially fatal cases of acute watery diarrhea" spreading in the Artibonite region. AlJazeera had the story as its lead, but nothing definite.

The Sydney Morning Herald (via AFP) had pretty much nailed the story by midnight. It was cholera.

CNNhad the story and added compelling video by this morning.

Some of the victims of Haiti's cholera outbreak are being treated on hospital floors because all the beds are taken, and fever-wracked patients are waiting hours for a doctor to reach them.Outside Saint Nicolas hospital, an overwhelmed facility at the heart of Haiti's growing public health disaster, hundreds of desperate relatives bring their sick kin to the front door.

The Wall Street Journal had quotes from Partners in Health and a short list of early victims.

Laboratory tests in Haiti have confirmed cholera as the cause of an outbreak of severe diarrhea in a rural-central part of the country that has killed dozens of people and sickened hundreds more. Officials from Haiti's Ministry of Health were expected to announce the test results this morning, according to a person familiar with the testing. The Ministry is investigating the outbreak along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pan-American Health Organization.

Reports are still coming in about St. Nicholas Hospital in St. Marc where we visited in March. The courtyard was filled with people vomiting and uncontrollably defecating, the hallmark sign of Cholera. Health workers were doing vector analysis to determine where the patients originated so that they could determine ground zero for the outbreak.

If this morphs into a major outbreak, the consequences could be catastrophic. This is one of the oldest diseases known to mankind, this outbreak was predictable with 1.3 million people living in tents with little or no sanitation, and the world-wide sin of omission is that nothing was done to ensure that the billions of dollars in donor aid went to help these suffering people.

It will be astounding to see the media coverage of this event, should it unfold in all its potential horror, but where has the media been since the six-month anniversary in July? Where is the tough investigative reporting that should be holding 16,000 non-governmental organizations' feet to the fire? Where is the accountability?

We will all collectively wring our hands and cry over the potential tragedy and then move on to the next crisis instead of solving the horror of Haiti.

Calls for accountability are many and the media also ignores them. A report by the Disaster Accountability Project (DAP), said there is a "shocking lack of transparency" by relief organizations that have received upwards of $1.3 billion for Haiti aid.

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The report received little to no media attention.

Last week I received background information on what is not being done in Haiti. The Source offered:

I do understand that many NGOs and people want to genuinely help ... and many do great jobs. The NGO answer as presented by the international community has proven to not be the neither correct nor viable answer for Haiti.This has been tried and proven for the past 30 years. The obvious lack of success of the NGOs is in part due to lack of a uniform purpose, planning and coordination, - as well as the very obvious fact that it is not in the NGOs interests to contribute to a better Haiti, as they will unlikely be putting themselves out of business voluntarily. Further, the NGOs are not contributing at all to Haitian Capacity Building and certainly not to Haitian economic sustainability, rather in my point of view, they are hindering it. And the NGOs are not the only ones to blame, the EU, Canada and the US governments (USG) are all collectively to blame, -since they finance these organizations for the most part, - though not all.And let's bear in mind that the US Govt. has no jurisdiction over NGO funds not received from the USG, - and that once a general contract and/or mandate is signed between the USG and the NGO, - by law the USG can no longer interfere in how this NGO spends the funds.


Filthy Port-au-Prince Streets in May Copyright © 2010 G. Nienaber

The NGO question has been on the table for years. Where are the investigations?

The media ignored an August report from the Solid Waste Association of North America, which demonstrated that the solid waste situation in Port-au-Prince is out of control and a breeding ground for disease.

Look at the report and be prepared to be shocked by the photo of the main drainage canal.

The long-term negative consequences are that large quantities of solid waste is left to rot in the streets and serves as breeding ground for any number of harmful disease vectors, that rampant dumping in drainage canals occurs greatly increasing the risk of flood during the rainy season, that quantities of hazardous waste are left in the open, and that illegal dumping and burning is commonplace. After the political unrest of early 2004 the situation was greatly exacerbated as many public services effectively stopped functioning, including solid waste collection and disposal.

I thought I had seen and experienced the worst in lack of sanitation as a metaphor for the profane when I nearly stepped into a pile of feces in the ruins of the Port-au-Prince Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame) cathedral.

I was wrong.

Where is the $1.3 billion in aid? As news organizations begin the next news cycle and salivate over disaster, let's hope that they cut some of their travel expenses, find a few investigative reporters who know how to investigate the WHYS instead of the WHATS and expose the reasons and most likely the corruption that is fueling this horror.

georgianne nienaber

Georgianne Nienaber

Crossposted with the author’s permission from Huffington Post