By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – A cholera epidemic in Haiti that has killed thousands and been blamed on U.N. peacekeepers was “regrettable” but has been brought under control, the prime minister of the poor Caribbean nation said at the United Nations on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe met U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday, but he told Reuters they did not discuss accusations by some Haitians that Nepalese peacekeepers sparked the epidemic after camp latrines contaminated a river.
“This (the outbreak) is regrettable,” Lamothe, who became prime minister in May, said during an interview on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
“Our duty is to take care of the people and to solve the problem and that’s where we have been focusing our attention, while the U.N. is investigating the causes.”
An independent panel appointed by Ban to study the epidemic issued a May 2011 report that the United Nations said did not determine conclusively how cholera was introduced into Haiti.
But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June 2011 found that evidence strongly suggested U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal were the source.
Lamothe said he and Ban “didn’t discuss the cause, we discussed the treatment and going forward.”
The cholera outbreak has sickened almost 600,000 people and killed more than 7,400 in Haiti since October 2010. Cholera is an infection that causes severe diarrhoea and can lead to dehydration and death. It occurs in places with poor sanitation and can be treated by drinking clean fluids.
In a report to the U.N. Security Council last month, Ban said there had been an increase in the number of cholera cases since the rainy season began in early March and the World Health Organization projects up to 112,000 cases during 2012.
But Lamothe said the outbreak was “really under control” and said that the United Nations mission in Haiti, which began in 2004, had only helped the country and the government was “eternally grateful” for the world body’s help.
“We like to think on the positive side, we are the eternal optimists,” he said. “You need that in Haiti to run a country that’s been mismanaged for the past 30 years. You need a lot of optimism and a lot of will to do the right thing.”
Haiti is still struggling to lift itself from the rubble left by an earthquake in January 2010 that killed about 300,000 people and left more than 1.5 million homeless. Lamothe said 1.2 million of those had been moved back into homes, while the United Nations said 390,000 were still living in tent camps.
Only half the $5.5 billion pledged by the international community at a 2010 fundraising conference has been delivered.
“We are working at remobilizing, re-energizing the donor community at least to fulfil the commitment they had made,” Lamothe said. “Haiti’s destruction was estimated at $12.5 billion, out of which right now we received a fraction of that.”
“We want it to go through the Haitian government. The Haitian government will allocate it and work together with the different communities on the ground,” he said.
Lamothe said 54 percent of Haitians were living in extreme poverty on less than $1 a day and during the next year he hope to reduce that to 40 percent. He said that while some aid groups were withdrawing he was not concerned Haiti was being forgotten.
“Usually a country is forgotten when things are doing better, so we like to think things are doing better,” he said.
A U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti was recently extended for another year, but the number of authorized troops and police will be reduced by about 1,700 to 8,800 by June 2013.
U.N. peacekeepers – who helped maintain security, especially during elections plagued by fraud and unrest – are gradually handing over responsibility to the Haitian National Police.
“We want our police to be up to par and when that happens in three or four years, then we will be ready,” Lamothe said.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)