Argentinian peacekeepers with the United Nations Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) gave medical aid to people affected by Hurricane Matthew. Photo Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH

UN Approves Haiti Cholera Compensation Plan. But Who Will Actually Pay for It?

The United Nations has agreed to compensate the victims of Haiti’s cholera outbreak as part of a $400 million aid package that also includes the goal of eradicating cholera from the country.

The decision comes six years after Nepalese UN Peacekeepers likely introduced a deadly cholera strain to the country through improper sanitation practices at a peacekeeping outpost. The resulting epidemic has killed over 9,500 people and sickened thousands more.  Speaking to reporters yesterday, Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson said “We want to do this because we think it’s the right thing to do for the Haitian people, but frankly speaking, it’s the right thing to do for the United Nations.”

The details of the $400 million aid package are still being worked out, but it includes three “tracks:” Cholera eradication; building up Haiti’s water and sanitation infrastructure; and compensation for the victims, which the UN is calling “material assistance” to those affected.

But now, the key question is: where will that money actually come from?

The United Nations does not have this kind of cash lying around. Rather, when humanitarian appeals like this are issued it relies on donors — specifically the wealthier member states of the United Nations — to put up the funds. Right now,  humanitarian agencies are appealing for $19.86 billion to fund relief operations in over 30 countries, including Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, the Central African Republican and many more. Of that, only $8.7 billion has been contributed. In Haiti, even before this new $400 million plan, the needs of humanitarian agencies far exceeded the generosity of donors. Only about 33% of a $194 million appeal for relief operations in Haiti has been funded.

Yesterday, key members of the United States Senate acknowledged this decision as a “step in the right direction,” but did not specify whether the United States should help fund this response. Sen. Edward J Markey, the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, recently returned from a visit to Haiti in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, issued this statement:

“The announcement of financial remediation to victims of the UN-initiated cholera outbreak is a step in the right direction, but it falls short of providing the lasting and long term solution needed by the Haitian people,” said Senator Markey. “The UN must step up and publicly apologize for causing the first cholera outbreak in Haiti’s history, for the pain and suffering of the Haitian people, and provide justice for the victims of this epidemic and their families.

“The cholera epidemic in Haiti has only worsened in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. It is the moral and political responsibility of the UN to lead and implement a transparent process for remediation of this ongoing crisis, and to ensure that the people of Haiti are involved in decisions on how current and former victims of the disease and their families are compensated.”

The United States is by far the largest contributor to humanitarian relief operations around the world, contributing about $4.7 billion so far this year. If this $400 million Haiti cholera aid package is to be be realized — and victims are to receive their just compensation — key member states like the USA are going to need to step up and provide the funding. Without donor support, this new aid package will simply not get delivered.