Police fire tear gas into a camp for displaced people as protests accusing UN troops of bringing cholera turn violent.
|Anger over the cholera outbreak has spilled over into protests against the UN presence in Haiti [Reuters]|
The head of the UN mission in Haiti has said the November 28 elections will be held despite the cholera outbreak that has killed more than 1,000 people and the violence against peacekeepers.
At least 1,186 people have been killed by the disease in recent weeks in the Caribbean nation, prompting many people to question the wisdom of holding the national elections.
But speaking to Al Jazeera on Friday, Edmond Mulet, the head of the UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (Minustah), said: “The issue of cholera is not a reason not to have elections.
“I think that elections are important for the political stability, for the social stability of the country, for the reconstruction of the country.
“The cholera will spread and the outbreak will continue. It is going to get much worse than we have right now, and if we don’t have elections now because of the cholera, when are we going to have them?”
Haiti was already struggling to rebuild after an earthquake killed at least 250,000 people and made hundreds of thousands of others homeless, when the cholera outbreak occurred.
UN troops blamed
Angry Haitians have blamed UN peacekeepers, who are supposed to help organise and preside over the elections, for the cholera outbreak.
Protesters have blocked roads, bridges and airports to call for them to leave the country. Stones have been thrown at vehicles containing UN personnel and other foreigners.
Rumours have swirled for weeks that the cholera emanated from septic tanks at a base for Nepalese UN peacekeepers in central Haiti, leaking into the Artibonite River where locals drank, washed clothes and bathed.
The UN says it tested some of the Nepalese and found no trace of cholera.
“I think there is a lot manipulation around this from some local media and international media, trying to create a problem where there wasn’t a problem,” Minustah’s Mulet said.
“Now we are facing this situation but I am sure that, over time, when we are communicating the truth, that will convince them it is really unfair to accuse the United Nations of bringing cholera to Haiti.”
Rene Preval, Haiti’s president, has pleaded for calm and denounced unnamed groups for taking advantage of the cholera to stir tensions ahead of the election.
Against this backdrop of tension, aid groups have said the international response to Haiti’s deadly cholera epidemic is “inadequate” and woefully short of funding.
“There is no time left for meetings and debate – the time for action is now,” Stefano Zannini, the Medecins Sans Frontieres head of mission in Haiti, said.
In just over a month, the cholera epidemic has spread to eight of the country’s 10 provinces and about 20,000 people have needed treatment in hospital.
Imogen Wall of OCHA, the UN humanitarian agency, said the cholera response operation had so far received only $5 million of the $164 million requested.
“The response is completely inadequate and in this situation … we urgently need support if we are going to save lives,” she told the Reuters news agency.
“Cholera is a race against time. If we can get to people, if we have what we need, we should be saving lives.”