Four years after cholera arrived in Haiti, the country still is trying to curb the epidemic, even as it sees significant drops in the numbers of people succumbing to the deadly waterborne disease.
Still, more than 30 people a day continue to get infected with cholera, a number that remains unacceptable, according to Haitians and other officials as they prepare for a major donor conference Thursday in Washington focused on bringing clean water and sanitation to the country.
“The fact that we have fewer cases and it’s not part of the major news cycle around the world gives the impression we have already had this progress,” said Pedro Medrano, the United Nations’ assistant secretary general charged with overseeing the cholera response in Haiti. “That is not the case.”
For months, Medrano has been meeting with donors, including those in the Latin American region, trying to get them to assist the United Nations and Haiti in making cholera a thing of the past by contributing toward a 10-year $2 billion plan launched by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2012.
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But the campaign has been struggling, with both Haiti and the United Nations facing difficulties in meeting the two-year goal of raising the initial $400 million.
Ban, who visited Haiti in July, will attend Thursday’s meeting, as will Haiti Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, who will present the government’s plan to bring water and sanitation to neglected pockets of the country.
Lamothe said the plan has an initial price tag of $310million for water and sanitation in 16 communes.
“Cholera has taken the lives of over 7,000 Haitians with over 700,000 infected by a disease that hit the most vulnerable,” he said. “We need the funding to ensure our water and sanitation system is up-to-date and to prevent this from ever occurring again.”
The United Nations has come under heavy criticism for introducing cholera in Haiti and not taking responsibility. In an interview with the Miami Herald, Ban said the global body has a moral responsibility to eliminate the waterborne disease from Haiti. He repeated the statement during a visit in July in which he met with victims.
Lawyers suing the U.N. in one of the cases are scheduled to give oral arguments later this month over whether the body has immunity from lawsuits.
The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti filed the lawsuit. Brian Concannon, the organization’s executive director, has long contended that the U.N. “recklessly” introduced cholera in Haiti 10 months after the country's devastating Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake.
He said the U.N. would have more credibility in attempting to raise money for cholera “by being honest and responsible about its role in causing the epidemic.”
While rights advocates are applauding the gathering in New York, they also are asking the government and donors to be more focused in their approach.
With nearly 60 percent of Haiti's schools lacking toilets and more than three-quarters lacking access to water, for instance, Human Rights Watch said clean latrines and safe water for drinking and hand-washing at schools should be key on their list.
A 2012 demographic and health survey found that Haitian school-age children — ages 5 to 19 — had the highest incidence of cholera among all age groups and that children ages 5 to 14 had the second-highest percentage of cholera deaths, the organization said.
“The majority of children in Haiti attend schools in such poor condition that they risk contracting disease,” said Amanda Klasing, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “If donors are serious about improving health in Haiti, then they have to address kids’ right to attend schools that don’t make them sick.”
Medrano says he is hopeful that the funds will be raised, since major donors, including the Caribbean Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank are expected to be in the room.
“This is an opportunity for the government to present what can be major needs for the next two years in areas where we have high levels of cholera,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lamothe also plans to use his visit in Washington to meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to seek support for an $85-millionpower plant.
Haiti currently spends about $200 million a year out of its budget to subsidized 120 megwatts of power.
The project, he said, “will double existing capacity and will improve coverage and reduce costs.”