World Bank pledges $50 million to help fight cholera in Haiti’s ‘hot spots’


World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim on Oct. 8, 2014, in Washington, D.C.
World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim on Oct. 8, 2014, in Washington, D.C. Getty Images

The World Bank is pledging $50 million to help Haiti improve sanitation and provide clean water in an effort to prevent cholera and other waterborne diseases, which remain a leading cause of death among infants in the nation.

The announcement by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim came ahead of a high level conference in Washington on Thursday, chaired by Kim and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The gathering, also attended by Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, was to raise money toward a $2 billion cholera-elimination campaign that focuses on improving access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Japan pledged $2.5 million.

“For decades, water and sanitation have been neglected in Haiti, with serious consequences for public health,” Ban told donors during the conference. “Without safe water and adequate sanitation, people die from preventable waterborne illnesses, including diarrhea. Malnutrition rates worsen, stunting not only a child’s development but that of the country itself. Children, especially girls, stay out of school.

“We now need to catch up. We must help the Haitian people. We must bring access to water, sanitation, and healthcare within reach of every Haitian,” he said.

Donors are backing the plan that targets 16 priority communities with the highest rates of cholera. They agreed with the Haitian government’s approach and the need to involve local communities.

Some 38 percent of Haitians lack access to safe drinking water, and only 24 percent of Haitian families have access to improved sanitation, according to World Bank officials.

That reality has helped the rapid spread of a deadly cholera outbreak, which has killed thousands and infected more than a half-million Haitians since arriving in the country four years ago this month.

Haiti still is trying to curb the epidemic, even as it sees significant drops in the numbers of people succumbing to the disease.

Still, more than 30 people a day continue to get infected with cholera.

“We have made significant progress in controlling the cholera epidemic in Haiti, but too many people are still getting sick,” Kim said. “We cannot ignore this opportunity to prevent thousands more Haitian children from dying from waterborne diseases.”

The Bank’s $50 million pledge will be focused on helping 2 million Haitians living in cholera hot spots in rural areas. Schools and clinics in those areas will receive priority.

Pedro Medrano, the U.N.’s assistant secretary general charged with overseeing the cholera response in Haiti, welcomed the additional funding.

“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,” Medrano said. “That is not the case.”

For months, Medrano has been meeting with potential donors seeking help in trying making cholera a thing of the past by contributing toward the $2 billion, 10-year plan launched by Ban and the U.N. in 2012.

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.

In search of new partners, Medrano has spent considerable effort trying to encourage Haiti’s Latin American neighbors to assist, saying “this should be a real Latin American initiative.”

“For cholera, the treatment is simple: investments in hygiene,” he added.

In a July visit to Haiti to highlight the anti-cholera initiative, Ban had what he said was “an emotional” visit with families.

“I heard first-hand how cholera has affected families. My heart ached at the losses,” said Ban, who made no mention of the criticism that the U.N. introduced cholera in Haiti with a contingent from Nepal.

The Haitian government’s plan has an initial price tag of $310 million for water and sanitation in 16 communities. During Thursday’s conference, Lamothe presented the plan to bring water and sanitation to neglected pockets of the country.

With more than 8,000 killed and 700,000 affected, he said, “We are the voice of cholera victims.”

“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.

Lawyers suing the U.N. are scheduled to give oral arguments this month in a New York courtroom 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.”

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