Haitian Discontent Rage in the Time of Cholera


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Part 2: Choleric on Election Day

What does this mean, if anything? One sixth of the roughly 6,000 people surveyed are not registered to vote. Since the cholera epidemic began, the question arises as to how many will turn out for election day. "It's impossible to force people to vote," says Joseph Junior of Radio Tele Paradis, "if they can't even get themselves to the hospital for treatment."

The survivors of the earthquake have set up house in the ruins of Port-au-Prince. Hundreds of thousands still live in close quarters in tents, huts and unstable ruins, dependent on foreign aid. They wait and hope, but the reconstruction effort makes no progress. The state of emergency has become a permanent condition. And now cholera is raging in the capital. The bacterial infection, which causes severe diarrhea, is easily preventable in theory -- by not drinking contaminated water and frequently washing one's hands with soap. Some 75 percent of infections progress without symptoms. The rest are easily treated by administering fluids and electrolytes. But Haiti is one of the poorest, weakest and most corrupt nations in the world, a nation with no immune system.

In Cité Soleil, the poor district near the Port-au-Prince harbor, foreign aid workers are now waging a seemingly hopeless battle against the epidemic. Cholera patients, apathetic and half-naked, lie on boards in a field hospital under a white tent run by the aid organization Doctors Without Borders. The boards have a hole in the middle and there is a bucket underneath to catch the patients' feces. The patients wear armbands: red for critical cases, white for moderately severe to mild cases.

"Originally, we wanted to set up a diagnostic center here and then transfer the patients to other hospitals," says Renato Souza, the Brazilian director of the emergency station, "but the hospitals were already overcrowded." Now the doctors are converting an empty derelict building into another sick bay, to take more patients. "Today, so far, we've already received 200 new cases," says Souza. He looks at the clock. It's shortly after 1:00 p.m.

'I Believe the UN is Helping'

Souza has been in Port-au-Prince for a week. It's his second time in Haiti. He was there last in January, after the earthquake. "The shocking thing is that hardly anything has changed," he says. "It's as if the country were paralyzed, in a state of lethargy." But, he is quick to add, he is here to help, not criticize. "And you don't help people by weeping with them."

A six-year-old girl is huddled on one of the plank beds. She wears a white armband, but she seems to be suffering from severe diarrhea. "It's been going on like this since yesterday," says her mother, a short, thin woman with an anxious look in her eyes. She says she lost most of her relatives in the earthquake; her house was destroyed; and she and her children have lived in a tent since January 12. She suffers constant headaches. "I don't know much about politics," says the woman, "but I believe the UN is helping us."

Next to the woman, a young man wearing tracksuit pants and sneakers jumps up from his daughter's sickbed and says: "The MINUSTAH soldiers are a danger to the life of my child -- to the lives of all children in Haiti." He walks to the middle of the room, extends his arms in the gesture of a preacher and calls out: "I need the MINUSTAH to leave our country!" No one reacts to his words. Muttering to himself, the man walks to the water tank and rinses out a rag.

Another demonstration of sorts takes place on this day, between the collapsed presidential palace and a tent city. A few dozen children march down the street, accompanied by a marching band, and line up in front the wreckage of the palace. The band strikes up the national anthem, and the children stand at attention. They are celebrating the 18th of November, the day of the last major battle of the Haitian revolution against the French in 1803.

The adults, who have been perched on a low wall on the side of the road for a while, glance silently over at the children. No one gets up. "I'm not going to stand up for the national anthem," one of them finally says. "What are those people up there doing for me?"'

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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BTraven 11/25/2010
Why did the authors not mention that UN-soldiers from Nepal had introduced the streak that caused the epidemic which has been killed more than 1000 people so far. There was an outbreak of cholera there in the summer, and despite knowing about it Nepal's offer to send soldiers in order to support the rebuilding of the country was accepted. However, the epidemic was not caused by their attendance but by letting the waste from the latrines untreated down to a tributary of a river whose water is used by many people. I think UN-experts should have known that it could come to such a catastrophe. Haitians are mostly unnourished there they do not have the strength to deal with the decease. And they did not have any self-immunisation since the last time people were infected with cholera was several 10 years ago. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/23/haiti-shameful-un-betrayal
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