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Despite prevention efforts by government and aid agencies, a cholera outbreak within crowded refugee camps in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, has led to riots in various cities.
“The protests apparently began in Cap-Haitien…and within hours had paralyzed much of the northern port city,” The Associated Press reported, adding, “Local reporters said a police station was burned…and rocks thrown at peacekeeping bases.”
The violent backlash escalated to deadly gunfire exchanges between locals and United Nations officials, which claimed two lives and injured at least 18 people. Rioters blame UN peacekeepers for bringing the epidemic.
Haitian President Rene Preval addressed the nation, saying that “gunshots, throwing bottles, barricades of burning tires will not help us eradicate cholera bacteria. On the contrary, it will prevent the sick from receiving care and to deliver medicine where it is needed,” BBC News reported.
Since October, the acute intestinal infection, which causes severe vomiting, dehydration and diarrhea, has killed more than 1,000 people nationwide and infected over 17,000, including one person in neighboring Dominican Republic, according to health officials.
In the wake of the January 2010 earthquake, more than 1 million people still live in refugee camps, where packed and squalid living conditions are breeding grounds for the infection, which can be acquired through ingesting contaminated food or water.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the country’s largest health facility is in a grim condition. “Since the charities left, the hospital is back to business as usual. The occasional rat scrambles across the grounds, and sewage seeps from broken pipes by the emergency room, where dozens of half-naked patients lie in narrow cots.”
Partners In Health’s deputy chief of mission in Haiti warned in a letter posted on the organization’s website that the nation suffers from a scarcity of clean water. “Seventy percent of Haitians lack continuous direct access to clean water, leaving them vulnerable to cholera and other water-borne diseases.”
A local woman told The New York Times that she and others have been drinking from a cholera-infested river because there is nowhere to turn for water. “If we have Clorox [bleach], we pour some in and drink it. It tastes bad. Or we dig in the ground until we find water and drink that.”