Friday, May 6, 2011

Lemming Tracks: Haiti, Cholera, and an Oopsie

So far, cholera has killed upwards of 4,000 folks in Haiti.

The United Nations sponsored a study, to find out how the disease got started in the island nation.

Turns out, U.N. peacekeepers started the plague - but it's not their fault.

This almost makes sense, and the Lemming will be back after this excerpt:

"U.N.-Sponsored Report on Haiti's Cholera Outbreak Points to U.N. Itself as Culprit"
George Russell, (May 5, 2011)

"A United Nations-sponsored report into the causes of a deadly cholera outbreak that ravaged Haiti in the wake of its disastrous 2010 earthquake has discovered a culprit -- the U.N. itself.

"The 32-page report, prepared by an independent panel of medical experts at the behest of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, clearly states that the source of the epidemic was most likely a camp for U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti, whose human waste was dumped by independent contractors into an unsecured pit that was susceptible to flooding in heavy rainfall.

"That conclusion, the report notes, mirrors 'a commonly held belief in Haiti' virtually from the moment the outbreak began.

"But the report buries that central finding under a welter of circumstances that caused investigators to conclude that the outbreak, which is ongoing, 'was not the fault of, or deliberate action of, a group or individual.'..."

Before anything else: the important point, in the Lemming's opinion, is that folks are still getting cholera in Haiti.

No pressure, but it's also the Lemming's opinion that Haitians could use some help. There's a none-too-well-updated list of charities in January, 2010, post. Some of the links should still be valid, though - particularly for the higher-profile charities.

Just a thought.

'It's Not Our Fault,' or 'Accidents Happen'

Now, about the assertion that starting a plague in Haiti "was not the fault of, or deliberate action of, a group or individual."

So much depends on what the word "fault" is supposed to mean. Let's look at a dictionary:
  • Fault (noun)
    1. A wrong action attributable to bad judgment or ignorance or inattention
    2. An imperfection in an object or machine
    3. The quality of being inadequate or falling short of perfection
    4. A crack in the earth's crust resulting from the displacement of one side with respect to the other
    5. Equipment failure attributable to some defect in a circuit
    6. Responsibility for a bad situation or event
    7. In sports, a serve that is illegal
  • Fault (verb)
    1. Put or pin the blame on
    (Princeton's WordNet)
It seems to the Lemming that there's "fault" involved, in the sense of the bad judgment or ignorance or inattention that resulted in human waste being dumped into Haiti's water (noun, #1). But maybe, legally, the contractor who did the dumping isn't responsible (noun, #6). As for fault as a verb - like the Lemming said, maybe it's not illegal to poison the water in Haiti.

It's also possible that the contractor didn't know that it's a bad idea to dump human waste where it can get into streams and rivers. Particularly where floods are likely.

Possible - but the Lemming has no idea how likely it is that the folks involved knew what they were doing.

Bottom Line: People Died

"...As the report also notes, military contingents from Bangladesh and Nepal were among members of the United Nations Stabilization Force in Haiti (known by its French-language acronym of MINUSTAH) stationed at U.N. peacekeeping camp Mirebalais, close to the initial outbreak. An additional contingent of 60 Bangladesh police officers was also stationed at Mirebalais between September and October 2010.

"None of the U.N. personnel were recorded as cholera cases, but the bacteria, which is usually spread through water, can exist in small numbers in the human digestive tract until it hits a rapid-breeding environment.

"According to the report, the MINUSTAH camp at Mirebalais was just such an environment. Water piping around the main toilet and showering area of the camp was 'haphazard,' with 'significant potential for cross-contamination through leakage from broken pipes and poor pipe connections.' Some of the pipes ran over a drainage ditch that fed into a tributary of the Artibonite River, Haiti's largest, which subsequently became the main artery of the water-borne epidemic.

"In addition, sewage from the camp, along with two other MINUSTAH facilities, was trucked by a contractor to an open and unfenced septic pit, in an area that was susceptible to flooding and overflow in wet weather that enters the same river tributary system...."

Maybe there was no other possible way to get rid of the tainted water. Maybe it was impossible to set up adequate waste collection and disposal.

The report isn't particularly light reading, but the Lemming's seen worse:
The report gives what seem to be common-sense recommendations for preventing another debacle like this. Maybe the United Nations will implement them.

Then again, maybe not.

Implementing the report's recommendations, from training health workers to investing in "piped, treated drinking water supplies and improved sanitation in Haiti," and using vaccines (Final Report) - all cost money. Besides, 'we've never done that before' seems to be a fairly common response to new ideas.

Still, if the United Nations and related outfits don't get their act together - the next time they try to help, more people will almost certainly die.

Back to that article - for the last time in this post.


"...The cholera epidemic, which is still ongoing, has killed some 4,500 Haitians through severe diarrhea and dehydration since its outbreak in October 2010. There had been no previous cholera outbreak in Haiti for nearly a century. The report confirms that the specific cholera bacteria involved in the Haitian epidemic are a variant first detected in Bangladesh in 2002, which is even more toxic than other cholera strains found in South Asia...."

Almost a century and no cholera outbreak in Haiti. That's a pretty good record. Particularly considering the island nation's economic status. Not that being wealthy is a guarantee against health problems and daft management. And that's almost another topic.

The Lemming has opined before, about blaming the victim, the United Nations, and whether there are too many Africans:
About Haiti and cholera, the Lemming hopes that folks trying to help Haitians will be much more careful - so that their assistance won't be quite so lethal.
The Lemming's take on Haiti, Voodoo, charity, and common sense:

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