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Haitians teargassed during aid protests before Ban Ki-moon visit

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UN secretary general speaks of heartbreak at devastation after frustrated residents clash with UN peacekeepers

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, visited victims of hurricane Matthew on Saturday, saying the destruction was heartbreaking, and renewing a pledge to help the nation cope with an outbreak of cholera that was introduced by UN peacekeepers.

Bans brief visit came as victims of the storm continued to express frustration sometimes violently at delays in aid about a week-and-a-half since Matthew hit south-west Haiti with 145mph (235 km/h) winds, killing 1,000 people and demolishing or damaging tens of thousands of homes.

I met so many displaced persons, young people, women who were pregnant and sick people. It was heartbreaking, he said, describing his tour of an emergency shelter in the town of Les Cayes packed with families whose homes were destroyed.

Shortly before Bans helicopter was due to land in Les Cayes, a clash broke out between rock-throwing residents and peacekeepers at a UN base there. About 100 frustrated residents began hurling rocks when trucks ferrying food aid arrived. Haitian police officers and UN peacekeepers scattered the group with teargas. Calm was restored as Bans helicopter approached.

In recent days, Associated Press reporters have observed a number of skirmishes between Haitians in hard-hit areas seeking emergency aid distributed by international and local organisations.

At the close of his roughly 4-hour stop in Haiti, Ban told reporters at Port-au-Princes airport that a cholera-focused trust fund announced in recent weeks was part of the UNs new approach to helping Haitian families who lost loved ones since the waterborne disease was introduced here in October 2010.

The UN said the fund is designed to help Haiti overcome cholera and build stronger water, sanitation and health systems.

Theres long been ample evidence that cholera was introduced to the nations biggest river by inadequately treated sewage from a UN peacekeeping base about 10 months after Haitis devastating earthquake.

But the UN only acknowledged in August that it played a role in introducing cholera to Haiti and vowed to aid victims in the impoverished Caribbean nation, which has experienced the worst outbreak of the disease in recent history. UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said that that the United Nations has a moral responsibility to the victims.

UN officials at one point said they were seeking about $181 million for the fund, but Ban mentioned no figures on Saturday as he vowed to help the families of victims and most of all prevent and stop this cholera epidemic. He acknowledged, however, that international funding is so far falling far short.

I know that the world economic situation is not favourable, and I know that there is some donor fatigue by certain countries, he told reporters at the close of his visit.

Beatrice Lindstrom, a human rights lawyer with the nonprofit Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, said before the visit that activists were hopeful that Ban would fully acknowledge the UNs responsibility for introducing cholera to Haiti.

The need for a new UN response that both controls and eliminates cholera and compensates the victims who have suffered so much is now more dire than ever, she said.

Health authorities say they have been struggling with a surge of patients with cholera in the wake of the category 4 storm that struck on 4 October in a rugged region of southwest Haiti that is home to more than one million people.

The wreckage left behind by the hurricane has created perfect conditions for spreading the waterborne disease. Rivers and outdoor latrines overflowed across the mountainous landscape.

Cholera, caused by bacteria that produce severe diarrhea and is contracted by drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food, is easily treatable if caught in time and the proper treatment is provided. But it can lead to a rapid, agonising death through complete dehydration.

Ban departed Haiti for Ecuadors capital of Quito in a UN jet on Saturday evening.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/16/haitians-teargassed-during-aid-protests-before-ban-ki-moon-visit

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