Appalling Portraits of Haiti’s Cholera Epidemic

From daguerreotypes to digital.
Feb. 25 2013 6:19 PM

A Massacre of Negligence

A horrendous mistake made by the United Nations has led to the death of 8,000 Haitians since 2010. Why do U.N. leaders refuse to take responsibility for Haiti’s cholera epidemic?

In 2010, the United Nations sent a group of soldiers from Nepal on a largely U.S.-financed peacekeeping mission in post-quake Haiti. But the U.N. neglected to adequately screen the mission’s soldiers for cholera, a disease that was raging in Nepal at the time but that Haiti had never experienced. Shortly after the soldiers moved to the U.N. base in Haiti located upstream from a major river system, Haitians began to contract the disease at an alarming rate, sickening more than 647,000 Haitians and taking more than 8,000 lives. Since then, U.N. leaders have attempted to deny the organization’s role in the epidemic and last week declared claims brought by Haitian families in the wake of the epidemic null and void. Read Jonathan Katz’s full story about the U.N. fiasco here.

A resident crosses a dirty drain, which leads into the sea at downtown Port-au-Prince, Oct. 29, 2010. The unusually high death rate in Haiti's cholera epidemic is slowing as people become aware of the disease and health experts provide treatment, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday. The United Nations agency's key aim now is to prevent the disease from spreading south to the capital, Port-au-Prince, and the camps for homeless survivors of the Jan. 12 earthquake, from the northern department of Artibonite where it is concentrated.
A resident crosses a dirty drain, which leads into the sea at downtown Port-au-Prince, Oct. 29, 2010. The unusually high death rate in Haiti's cholera epidemic is slowing as people become aware of the disease and health experts provide treatment, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday. The United Nations agency's key aim now is to prevent the disease from spreading south to the capital, Port-au-Prince, and the camps for homeless survivors of the Jan. 12 earthquake, from the northern department of Artibonite where it is concentrated.

Photo by Eduardo Muñoz/Reuters

People stand in a tent camp for individuals who lost their homes in the Jan. 12 earthquake, Nov. 3, 2010 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. More than 1 million Haitians are refugees due to the January's earthquake. Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere, has been further unsettled by an outbreak of cholera, which has so far killed more than 330 people.
People stand in a tent camp for individuals who lost their homes in the Jan. 12 earthquake, Nov. 3, 2010 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. More than 1 million Haitians are refugees due to the January's earthquake. Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere, has been further unsettled by an outbreak of cholera, which has so far killed more than 330 people.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Boys on their way to fill water jugs pause near a cross adorned with black cloth on a hill overlooking a burial site outside Port-au-Prince, Jan. 10, 2011. Mass graves of victims of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake and the cholera epidemic are found buried at the site.
Boys on their way to fill water jugs pause near a cross adorned with black cloth on a hill overlooking a burial site outside Port-au-Prince, Jan. 10, 2011. Mass graves of victims of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake and the cholera epidemic are found buried at the site.

Photo by Allison Shelley/Reuters

A family lives in a room on the grounds of an abandoned hospital where they and hundreds of others had been evacuated from the Corail-Cesselesse relocation camp, due to Hurricane Tomas Nov. 5, 2010, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The storm, which caused some flooding and heavy rains, largely spared Haiti.
A family lives in a room on the grounds of an abandoned hospital where they and hundreds of others had been evacuated from the Corail-Cesselesse relocation camp, due to Hurricane Tomas Nov. 5, 2010, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The storm, which caused some flooding and heavy rains, largely spared Haiti.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A man drags a dead cholera victim through the streets of Cap-Haitien on Nov. 19, 2010, after four days of riots between demonstrators and U.N. peacekeepers accused of bringing cholera to the country. Preparations for key upcoming elections pressed ahead despite violent clashes with U.N. troops blamed by Haitians for importing a cholera epidemic that has now claimed nearly 1,200 lives.
A man drags a dead cholera victim through the streets of Cap-Haitien on Nov. 19, 2010, after four days of riots between demonstrators and U.N. peacekeepers accused of bringing cholera to the country. Preparations for key upcoming elections pressed ahead despite violent clashes with U.N. troops blamed by Haitians for importing a cholera epidemic that has now claimed nearly 1,200 lives.

Photo by Julien Tack/AFP/Getty Images

A Haitian with cholera arrives to receive treatment at St.-Catherine hospital in the slum of Cite-Soleil in Port-au-Prince, Nov. 19, 2010. The United Nations-led international response to Haiti's deadly cholera epidemic is "inadequate" and woefully short of funding and aid groups, including the U.N. humanitarian agency.
A Haitian with cholera arrives to receive treatment at St.-Catherine hospital in the slum of Cite-Soleil in Port-au-Prince, Nov. 19, 2010. The United Nations-led international response to Haiti's deadly cholera epidemic is "inadequate" and woefully short of funding and aid groups, including the U.N. humanitarian agency.

Photo by Eduardo Muñoz/Reuters

Demonstrators holding placards surround a U.N. vehicle during a protest in Port-au-Prince, July 28, 2011. Protesters said they want justice from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) after a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that a unit from Nepal might be responsible for bringing cholera into the country, which has killed more than 5,500 people so far.
Demonstrators holding placards surround a U.N. vehicle during a protest in Port-au-Prince, July 28, 2011. Protesters said they want justice from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) after a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that a unit from Nepal might be responsible for bringing cholera into the country, which has killed more than 5,500 people so far.

Photo by Swoan Parker/Reuters

Patients and families wait outside at St. Nicolas Hospital on October 21, 2010 in St. Marc, 96 Km in the north of Port-au-Prince, amid a cholera epidemic.
Patients and families wait outside St. Nicolas Hospital on Oct. 21, 2010, in St. Marc, in the north of Port-au-Prince, amid a cholera epidemic that has claimed 135 lives and infected 1,500 people over the last few days. The epidemic has not yet reached the major displaced persons camps in and around the capital, Port-au-Prince, which was ravaged by a 7.0 earthquake in January that left 1.2 million people homeless. But officials fear an outbreak in densely populated tent cities that have poor sanitation and meager medical facilities has the potential of unleashing a public health disaster.

Photo by Thony Belizaire/AFP/Getty Images

A woman infected with cholera receives treatment in a clinic set up by the aid agency Samaritan's Purse in Cabaret, Haiti, Nov. 26, 2010. A raging cholera epidemic in Haiti may deter some voters from participating in Sunday's national elections, but postponing or canceling the polls could threaten stability in the Caribbean country, the European Union's envoy said on Monday.
A woman infected with cholera receives treatment in a clinic set up by the aid agency Samaritan's Purse in Cabaret, Haiti, Nov. 26, 2010. A raging cholera epidemic in Haiti may deter some voters from participating in Sunday's national elections, but postponing or canceling the polls could threaten stability in the Caribbean country, the European Union's envoy said on Monday.

Photo by Keith Bedford/Reuters

A woman infected with cholera receives treatment in a clinic set up by the aid agency Doctors Without Borders, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Nov. 26, 2010.
A woman infected with cholera receives treatment in a clinic set up by the aid agency Doctors Without Borders, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Nov. 26, 2010.

Photo by Keith Bedford/Reuters

A boy with cholera is unstrapped from his bed during treatment at a cholera clinic set up by Doctors Without Borders in the Tabarre neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Nov. 19, 2010.
A boy with cholera is unstrapped from his bed during treatment at a cholera clinic set up by Doctors Without Borders in the Tabarre neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Nov. 19, 2010.

Photo by Allison Shelley/Reuters

A Haitian girl with cholera symptoms is doused with water at an improvised clinic run by Doctors Without Borders in Port-au-Prince, Nov. 20, 2010.
A Haitian girl with cholera symptoms is doused with water at an improvised clinic run by Doctors Without Borders in Port-au-Prince, Nov. 20, 2010.

Photo by Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

A Haitian girl receives an intravenous drip at a cholera treatment center of Doctors Without Borders in Port-au-Prince, Jan. 10, 2011.
A Haitian girl receives an intravenous drip at a cholera treatment center of Doctors Without Borders in Port-au-Prince, Jan. 10, 2011.

Photo by Jorge Silva/Reuters

Members of a Haitian Ministry of Health body-collection team spray a mixture of bleach and water to disinfect the body of Nixon Merise, 24, who died of cholera, before removing his body from his home in the Carrefour neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Nov. 20, 2010.
Members of a Haitian Ministry of Health body-collection team spray a mixture of bleach and water to disinfect the body of Nixon Merise, 24, who died of cholera, before removing his body from his home in the Carrefour neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Nov. 20, 2010.

Photo by Allison Shelley/Reuters

Members of a Haitian Ministry of Health body-collection team unload 14 bodies as they dispose the victims of the cholera epidemic in Titanyen, the site of a mass grave for the victims of the January earthquake, on Nov. 17, 201,0 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The bodies had been collected from homes, the street, and a hospital as Haiti's cholera epidemic has killed more than 1,000 and sickened thousands. Unable to find other sites to dispose of the bodies, they ended up at the Titanyen site where, after negotiating with the local mayor, they were able to dump the bodies in anticipation of them being buried. Doctors say poor sanitary conditions after January's earthquake made the country vulnerable to cholera, which is caused by bacteria transmitted through contaminated water or food.
Members of a Haitian Ministry of Health body-collection team unload 14 bodies as they dispose the victims of the cholera epidemic in Titanyen, the site of a mass grave for the victims of the January earthquake, on Nov. 17, 201,0 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The bodies had been collected from homes, the street, and a hospital as Haiti's cholera epidemic has killed more than 1,000 and sickened thousands. Unable to find other sites to dispose of the bodies, they ended up at the Titanyen site where, after negotiating with the local mayor, they were able to dump the bodies in anticipation of them being buried. Doctors say poor sanitary conditions after January's earthquake made the country vulnerable to cholera, which is caused by bacteria transmitted through contaminated water or food.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A member of a Haitian Ministry of Health body collection team directs a truck as it backs up to drop off two victims of the cholera outbreak covered in plastic bags at a cemetery on Nov. 16, 2010, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. T
A member of a Haitian Ministry of Health body collection team directs a truck as it backs up to drop off two victims of the cholera outbreak covered in plastic bags at a cemetery on Nov. 16, 2010, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. T

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Cemetery workers cover the grave of Serette Pierre, who recently died of cholera, Oct. 29, 2010, in Back D' Aguin, Haiti. Pierre died the same day she contracted cholera, leaving three children without parents. Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the western hemisphere, has been further unsettled by an outbreak of cholera, which has so far killed over 300 people. The epidemic has affected the central Artibonite and Central Plateau regions with 3,612 cases so far on record. Authorities believe the outbreak is contained, but has not yet peaked. There is also fear that the deadly diarrheal disease could migrate to the sprawling camps for the hundreds of thousands of Haitians displaced by the January 2010 earthquake.
Cemetery workers cover the grave of Serette Pierre, who recently died of cholera, Oct. 29, 2010, in Back D' Aguin, Haiti. Pierre died the same day she contracted cholera, leaving three children without parents. Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the western hemisphere, has been further unsettled by an outbreak of cholera, which has so far killed over 300 people. The epidemic has affected the central Artibonite and Central Plateau regions with 3,612 cases so far on record. Authorities believe the outbreak is contained, but has not yet peaked. There is also fear that the deadly diarrheal disease could migrate to the sprawling camps for the hundreds of thousands of Haitians displaced by the January 2010 earthquake.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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