If you give us cholera, we will give you fire

Residents of the largest slum in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince have been demonstrating over the country’s response to the cholera outbreak. The protesters in Cite Soleil said the government and the UN have failed to protect them, as the number of people killed by the highly contagious water-borne disease soared to 724. In the meantime, the US Congress continues to block the delivery of the $1.15 billion in reconstruction money it promised to Haiti back in March.

The Pan American Health Organisation, the regional office of the UN’s World Health Organisation, has warned Haiti to expect hundreds of thousands of cases now that the disease appears to have taken hold.

They also vented their anger at NGOs operating in the country, where a devastating earthquake on January 12 killed more than 250,000 people and destroyed homes, forcing more than one million people to seek shelter in cramped makeshift camps.

Cath Turner, Al Jazeera‘s correspondent in Port-au-Prince, said several hundred people joined the demonstration in Cite Soleil, where many cholera deaths have occurred.

“They live near a rubbish dump which is normally a site for household and industrial waste, but for the last year human waste has been added to that,” our correspondent said.

“Of course, with the cholera outbreak, human faeces and water mixed together is a sure way to get the disease.

“We saw a truck that was carrying human waste to the dump, but it was forced to turn around and retreat because the people started throwing rocks at it.”

Crisis deepens

Haiti’s cholera crisis deepened on Thursday as the toll continued to soar and three more deaths in the teeming capital raised fears the epidemic could explode in IDP camps full of earthquake survivors.

“We greatly fear a flare-up in the capital which would be serious given the conditions in the camps,” Claude Surena, president of the Haitian Medical Association, told the AFP news agency.

The Haitian health ministry said the number of infections around the country has passed the 11,000 mark.

The outbreak, Haiti’s first in more than 50 years, erupted in the Artibonite river valley in mid-October and initially seemed contained to central and northern areas.

There have been roughly 1,000 new cases each day this week, and the death curve is getting steadily steeper – with 60 new fatalities on Wednesday and more than 80 on Thursday.

Overwhelmed’

“If cholera cases continue to rise at this rate, we’ll quickly be overwhelmed,” warned Yves Lambert, head of infectious diseases at the main public hospital in central Port-au-Prince.

Most of the estimated 1.3 million internally displaced persons live in tent cities around the capital, and cholera could spread easily in filthy conditions where scarce water supplies are shared for cooking and washing.

Haitian authorities have been warned to expect an even larger scale of disaster if cholera continues to take hold in the capital, much of which was flattened by the earthquake.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), a medical charity, said this week it was extremely concerned at the increase in the number of patients with cholera-like symptoms in the capital’s slums and tent cities.

“The increasing numbers of cases of suspected cholera in our facilities throughout Port-au-Prince are certainly alarming,” said the statement from Stefano Zannini, MSF head of mission in Haiti.

Hurricane Tomas, which claimed more than 20 lives in Haiti at the weekend, aggravated the situation, triggering heavy rains that caused rivers, including the believed source of the cholera, the Artibonite, to flood.

Although easily treated, cholera has a short incubation period and causes acute diarrhoea that can lead to severe dehydration and sometimes death in a matter of hours.

One thought on “If you give us cholera, we will give you fire”

  1. There’s no mention here of the probability that the cholera was brought to Haiti by UN occupation troops from Nepal. But even if it wasn’t, the UN, as the occupying power, is responsible for the health and well-being of the occupied population.

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