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UN hit with cash demand over Haiti cholera outbreak

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 8 Nov 2011 23:43 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Joseph Guyler-Delva

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Nov 8 (Reuters) - The United Nations was hit with a demand for hundreds of millions of dollars in reparations on Tuesday because of a year-old cholera outbreak that has killed more than 6,700 Haitians.

The demand was made on behalf of more than 5,000 Haitian cholera victims and their families in a petition filed at U.N. headquarters in New York by the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

The human rights group argues that infected U.N. peacekeeping troops from Nepal, where cholera is endemic, caused the outbreak by dumping untreated waste from their rural base camp into a tributary of the most important river in the earthquake-ravaged Caribbean nation.

"The cholera outbreak is directly attributable to the negligence, gross negligence, recklessness and deliberate indifference for the health and lives of Haiti&${esc.hash}39;s citizens by the United Nations and its subsidiary, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH)," the petition said.

It said numerous studies, including those by the United Nations, traced the virus to U.N. personnel from Nepal.

"Until MINUSTAH&${esc.hash}39;s actions incited the cholera outbreak, Haiti had not reported a single case of cholera for over 50 years," the petition said.

The 36-page petition seeks a minimum of ${esc.dollar}100,000 to compensate the families or next-of-kin of each of the individuals who lost their lives to the deadly epidemic. It also demands at least ${esc.dollar}50,000 to compensate each victim who suffered illness or injury from cholera.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters he disputed the claim of U.N. responsibility for the cholera in Haiti. He said the peacekeeping mission and other agencies were working to control the spread of the disease and treat it.

He said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had appointed a panel of independent scientific experts to study the cause of the epidemic. But the panel, which issued its report in May, "determined that it was not possible to be conclusive about how cholera was introduced into Haiti," Nesirky said.

Close to half a million Haitians out of a population of more than 9.5 million have been sickened by cholera since the outbreak began in October last year and more than 6,700 have died. The cholera started nine months after a 2010 earthquake wrecked the capital Port-au-Prince, killing tens of thousands and leaving many more homeless.

Cholera is a water-borne disease transmitted when bacteria-contaminated human fecal matter gets into water, food or onto someone&${esc.hash}39;s hands. It can cause severe diarrhea and vomiting and kill within hours by dehydrating victims. (Writing by Tom Brown; additional reporting by Patrick Worsnip in New York; Editing by Bill Trott)

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