Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Looks like it's cholera!"

Kids in Desarmes, in the Artibonite valley, have made up a song that they sing to the tune of Shakira's "Waka Waka":

Diri ak sos pwa, // Rice with bean sauce,
mayi moulen ak pwa, // cornmeal with beans,
yon sache dlo, de ji dola // one bag of water, two ice pops,
landan legliz la. // in church.*
Ou fin manje, // You finish eating,
ou kouche, // you lay down,
gen diyare // have diarrhea,
ou leve. // you get up.
Vwazen mwen, sa w gen la? // My neighbor, what you do have?
Vwazen mwen, sa w gen la? // My neighbor, what you do have?
Vwazen mwen, sa w gen la-a-a? // My neighbor, what you do ha-a-ave?
Genlè se kolera! // Looks like it's cholera!

*It's unclear why they are eating the rice, cornmeal and ice pops in church.

Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of the introduction of cholera into Haiti. As of the beginning of October, 465,293 cases have been reported and 6,559 deaths. Ben - who has spent a fair bit of time photographing cholera in the countryside - thinks that in reality there have probably been four times that many deaths.

Although it was tapering off, cholera has spiked again with heavy rains that began in August. Doctors without Borders (MSF) reported that in Port au Prince in the last month, cases in their clinics have increased from less than 300 admissions a week to more than 850, while "resources for adequately preventing the disease remain rudimentary and at the mercy of the uncertainties of life in the country." Resources remain "rudimentary" in part because many NGOs withdrew from the cholera response shortly before the rainy season. [See this excellent August report from the Center for Economic Policy Research explaining why Haiti's cholera epidemic is the worst in the world despite the outrageous number of NGOs working here.]

Haitian and international human rights groups are calling on the United Nations to acknowledge that the epidemic was brought to Haiti by peacekeeping troops, a fact that has been corroborated by multiple experts and researchers, and asking that the UN pay restitution to Haiti. As one Haitian social activist put it, "The irony is not lost on us that a Chapter VII peacekeeping mission [which are often deployed in response to crimes against humanity], is refusing to acknowledge their complicity in the deaths of so many people. Cholera is a crime against humanity in Haiti."

In protest, some of the organizations that we collaborate with marched yesterday from Fort National to the National Cemetery. We met up with them at the cemetery, arriving just in time to join the protestors as they rushed into the graveyard with exuberant ra ra instruments, a spray-painted goat [a popular nickname for UN soldiers here is "volè kabrit," or goat thieves, after a soldier stole a goat a couple years back], and a miniature wooden casket to symbolize the peacekeeping mission.
The casket is painted with the words, "Down with MINUSTAH: goat thieves, fags." (Even among activists, homophobia is so strong in Haiti that is more of an insult to call soldiers "fags" than it is to call them rapists. This, of course, is in reference to the incident in Port Salut in September.)
After speeches, someone threw spray paint cans into the casket, poured kerosene in and lit it on fire. Amid much cheering, the casket exploded. And as the crowd disbursed I heard someone yell, "MINUSTAH is finished!"

On the contrary, the mission's mandate has just been extended for another year. It doesn't seem like the UN will be taking responsibility for Haiti's cholera epidemic anytime soon. [In fact, last week when Ben was in Mirebalais taking pictures outside of the UN base that was the point of origin, he was detained and, as he puts it, "diplomatically threatened" not to publish the pictures in any stories related to cholera].


nerkert said...

Ben, please watch out for threatening-type people who have guns - and for cholera, of course. (There is an outbreak in Yaounde right now, too.)

Bryan said...

They are eating those things in church because it's 4:00pm and they've been there since sunrise.

Karen said...

Bryan, that's what I was going to say!
If Haitian church is like Cameroon church, it lasts all day long, so you'd need at least all that for sustenance.


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