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Congresswoman Waters Urges Immediate Action to Stop Cholera Epidemic in Haiti

October 29, 2010
Press Release

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-35) expressed her concerns today about the cholera epidemic in Haiti and urged the U.S. government to take immediate action to respond to this health crisis.

"I am deeply concerned about the outbreak of cholera in Haiti, and I urge the U.S. government to take immediate action to contain this outbreak," said Congresswoman Waters.  "Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and its infrastructure was depleted by the earthquake.  Haiti does not have the capacity to respond to a health crisis of this magnitude on its own, so humanitarian assistance from the U.S. and other international actors is desperately needed."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cholera is an intestinal infection that is highly transmissible, typically through contaminated drinking water.  Cholera can spread rapidly in the absence of clean water supplies and good sanitation systems. 

Congresswoman Waters has visited Haiti twice since last January's earthquake.  During her trips, she toured camps for the displaced and urged that more be done to improve living conditions in these camps.  In a statement on March 11, 2010, following her second trip, she warned, "Malaria, typhoid, scabies and other highly infectious and deadly diseases are going to spread like wildfire unless a comprehensive plan is implemented to acquire thousands of durable shelter units and set them up safely, sustainably, and immediately."

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 4,722 cases of cholera in Haiti have been confirmed, and 303 deaths have been reported.  The cholera outbreak is concentrated along the Artibonite River near the city of St. Marc.  The State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the CDC are working with United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the Government of Haiti to contain the cholera epidemic and provide medical treatment to those who need it.  However, containment efforts have been insufficient given the highly transmissible nature of the disease and its tendency to spread rapidly among populations that lack access to clean water and sanitation infrastructure. 

Congresswoman Waters said, "More than four thousand people have already been infected with cholera, and there is a frightening potential for this disease to spread in Port-au-Prince, where more than a million people are living in tent camps for the displaced and thousands of others live in impoverished communities without access to clean water and basic sanitation.  There is an urgent need for widespread distribution of potable water, public health education efforts, and expanded capacity to diagnose and treat the sick."

The massive 7.0 earthquake that hit Haiti last January caused tremendous destruction.  The earthquake killed approximately 230,000 people and displaced two million.  The earthquake destroyed more than 105,000 homes, more than 50 hospitals and health centers, and about 1,300 educational institutions, as well as the main port, the presidential palace, the parliament, and the majority of ministry buildings.  The financial costs have been estimated at over eight billion dollars. 

According to USAID, 1.3 million displaced people are living in settlement camps in Port-au-Prince as a result of the earthquake.  Thousands of other displaced people have migrated to more remote areas of Haiti were they are living with friends and relatives in overcrowded and impoverished conditions.  USAID estimates that over 162,000 displaced people migrated to the impoverished Artibonite region where the cholera epidemic is concentrated.

Congresswoman Waters said, "Humanitarian assistance is essential for Haiti, but it is not enough.  The United States and other international donors need to keep their promises to help Haiti develop its infrastructure.  If the Artibonite region of Haiti had basic sanitation and clean water distribution systems, this cholera outbreak probably would never have happened."

Following the earthquake, international donors pledged $9.9 billion in aid for Haiti's reconstruction and development, including $5.3 billion for the first two years.  However, little if any of these funds have actually reached Haiti.  This is not the first time that the international community has failed to follow through on its commitments to Haiti.  For example, the Inter-American Development Bank approved $146 million in development assistance loans to Haiti in 1998, but the disbursement of these loans was delayed for several years.  About $54 million of these loans was for the development of Haiti's water infrastructure.