Ny Times editorial board
A cholera patient at a clinic in Rendel, Haiti, being bathed with soap and water mixed with Clorox. Credit Meridith Kohut for The New York TimesToday’s lesson in evading moral responsibility comes to us from the United Nations. The organization says it is terribly concerned about the cholera epidemic in Haiti and wishes to eliminate it. But it has not figured out when and how this is going to happen, and with what money.
The “who” and “why” are well known. The United Nations has the duty to end the cholera crisis because the United Nations caused it. The disease was unknown in modern Haiti until peacekeepers, from Nepal, introduced it. They let their raw sewage flow into a river that people use for drinking water. That was in 2010. Cholera has since killed more than 9,000 Haitians and sickened 800,000 others.
The United Nations has spent nearly all that time trying to avoid blame. Only last December did it apologize and promise to make things right. The secretary-general at the time, Ban Ki-moon, promised strenuous efforts, called the “New Approach,” to eradicate cholera from the country.
That unfinished job has fallen to Mr. Ban’s successor, António Guterres. The New Approach envisions spending $400 million, but has raised only about $2 million. (Thank you, South Korea, France, Chile, India and Liechtenstein.) The United States, perhaps unsurprisingly, has contributed zero dollars to this effort. Our president is trying to gut international aid, including famine relief, as he lectures other nations about their failures to meet shared obligations.
Haiti, meanwhile, suffers. It lacks clean water and sanitation. The natural and human-caused disasters that beset Haiti throughout the last century have continued into the current one: the ruinous cycles of outside intervention and neglect; the lingering effects of underdevelopment, political instability and institutions; the 2010 earthquake; and last year, the catastrophic Hurricane Matthew.
What Haiti has in abundance, thanks especially to United Nations, is white papers and policy proposals and fresh commitments from well-meaning outsiders to do better this time. It has powerful friends, like Bill and Hillary Clinton, though their ministrations have not, in the minds of many Haitians, had a lasting imprint on Haiti’s stability and prosperity. The Clintons came and went, but the United Nations is still at it. It declared the “end in sight” for cholera — in 2013 — and is now hoping, under a new leader, to overcome the donor fatigue, inattention and neglect that have robbed Haitians of their right to healthy lives.
The latest United Nations plan seeks a “two track” cholera solution. Track 1 is divided into Track 1a and Track 1b, and Track 1a into Axis 1, Axis 2 and Axis 3. The trouble is all the money that is supposed to flow down these tracks and axes, for treating the sick and giving the country clean water and sanitation systems. It’s missing.
Mr. Guterres needs to use every bit of skill and good will to compel and cajole member nations and philanthropies to make the cholera campaign succeed — and with it, to settle the United Nations’ moral debt to Haiti. (Maybe you can help. The website of the United Nations Foundation is asking for credit-card donations, from $25 to $5,000.)