It has been six years since the disastrous January 2010 earthquake in Haiti which killed over 200,000 Haitians; it was also the year of the tragic outbreak of cholera that has now infected more than 785,000 people.
Cholera is an acute diarrheal illness and there are an estimated 3-5 million cases around the world each year. The bacterium contaminates water and food and is most likely to occur in places with inadequate water and sanitation systems.
During the month of October, Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington Office, along with other organizations, launched a cholera campaign via Twitter to raise awareness of the lack of response from the United Nations and the U.S. government to the plight of cholera victims and their families. The campaign is asking President Obama and Secretary Kerry to use their political influence and funding at the United Nations to support cholera remedies along with water and sanitation improvements.
On October 4, Hurricane Matthew destroyed Haiti’s southern peninsula. The hurricane affected over two million people and left 1.4 million people in need of shelter, clean water, and health care.
Hurricane Matthew not only affected the well-being of Haitian homes and infrastructure, but new cases of cholera have already increased as flooding allows the disease to spread faster. The cholera campaign is now more important than ever. Cholera will not leave Haiti any time soon, and renewed attention to the issues of water and sanitation must continue to be a priority for the United Nations’ member states as they work to support the government of Haiti.
The U.N., along with the Haitian government, announced a midterm cholera control plan for 2016-2018, which will cost $178 million. The objective of this plan, however, is to contain and control cholera, not to invest in eradicating it. While sanitation infrastructure is valuable to Haiti, cases of cholera continue to spread, making the need for prevention and treatment of the disease all the more urgent.
There are still high hopes that this time around, after the hurricane, the response will be different. Mennonite Central Committee and other organizations are working diligently with local partners to respond to communities that often get bypassed by large-scale disaster response efforts. The people of Haiti are resilient and have emerged before from tragedies. Those of us in the United States can help by supporting MCC’s hurricane response and calling on policymakers to address the cholera crisis.
Shalonda Spencer is the foreign policy fall intern in the MCC U.S. Washington Office. Story originally published on October 21, 2016. Reprinted with permission from Third Way Cafe.