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Should Haitians be suing the UN?

Haiti continues to struggle with its history of poverty and the aftermath of the 2010 Earthquake, which includes the introduction of Cholera.
Haiti continues to struggle with its history of poverty and the aftermath of the 2010 Earthquake, which includes the introduction of Cholera.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A group of Haitians is marching forward with their lawsuit against the UN over the cholera epidemic that began four years ago in the wake of the 2010 Haitian Earthquake. Because no cases of Cholera existed in Haiti before 2010 and brown liquid was seen flowing from a septic tank on the UN base into a river near the town of Mirebalais in October 2010, the UN is viewed by many as the culprit, especially given the mounting evidence. That said, the UN came to Haiti to help provide relief to the Haitian People, thus a lawsuit would be punishing to such efforts.

As the saying goes, “beggars can’t be choosers.” With that in mind, hundreds of NGOs and relief agencies have been operating in Haiti funneling billions of dollars in humanitarian aid and donations to the population of around 10 million. Americans are the largest contributors of aid to the Haitian People and the largest contributor to the UN, thus it is natural for many to feel fairly offended by this lawsuit. Clearly, the Haitian government is in a rather poor position as it needs outside support, so it cannot leverage its position to force action out of fear that foreign governments and NGO’s might leave.

That said, the cholera epidemic has thoroughly sickened around 700,000 and killed over eight thousand people in just four years with the crisis growing. Meanwhile, the UN’s only response has been to offer a ten-year eradication plan. It is also important to recognize enhanced medical aid is waning. If UN personnel, who are also being accused of the human rights violation of rape, are the source of the cholera, the UN has, at least, some responsibility and must act sooner rather than later. Having no defense or ability to cope with this ongoing crisis, the Haitian People are trying to use official channels to get the attention of those who can solve this problem.

Keep in mind, help that causes more harm than good is not help at all, thus there is a necessity to this unsavory legal action. Clearly, the consequences of any lawsuit could cost others future aid, yet officials are not providing any viable alternatives. Expanding on the notion of bad help, setting someone up for failure, or creating perpetual dependency on help, is not helpful. Certainly, relief aid is required to keep people alive and prevent the situation from turning into a complete catastrophe, but a lack of proper development means people are forced to become dependent on outside help.

Looking at Bill Clinton’s economic plan for Haiti, which was making a positive impact and doing more than other efforts to build an actual Haitian economy before the Earthquake, the essence of his vision was to provide subsidies that ensured locally high wages in an effort to build a textile industry capable of later sustaining itself at the expense of US and other foreign textile manufactures. Unfortunately, the plan followed the Clinton era globalization vision, i.e. economies should be built to service global demand with each country offering a selection of specialized goods.

Because this model creates a fragile global market built on global pricing of overly relied upon goods and price suppression, which is often experienced in the form of lower wages and suppressed tax revenues, it can only sustain poverty with marginal improvements in living standards, until the system collapses. National economies must be built on industries that serve the local needs of a People with locally plentiful resources that are as local as possible with excess production being used to participate in the global economy. In other words, solving Haiti’s many humanitarian crises and economic problems demands the creation of industries that directly provide for the needs of the Haitian People.

The prevailing bad economic worldview that priorities the wants of the global middle and wealthy classes over the needs of the majority will hurt the Peoples of poor countries like Haiti and rich countries like America, thus it must be abandoned. In the short-term, Haiti needs its cholera epidemic addressed via sufficient medical and humanitarian aid. Lawsuit aside, Haiti represents an incidental experiment in humanitarian intervention and economic development that reveals the faults of every strategy used by humanitarian aid and economic development organizations around the world. Instead of embracing the temptation to give up on the Haitian People, the International Community should use this opportunity to learn, so we can better solve similar problems around the world.