World body stops short of saying it caused the epidemic, but acknowledges role in crisis that has killed nearly 10,000.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has apologised for the first time to the people of Haiti for the international organisation’s role in a deadly cholera outbreak that has killed more than 9,300 people and infected more than 800,000.
“On behalf of the United Nations, I want to say very clearly we apologise to the Haitian people,” he said three times, in Haitian Creole, French and English, to the UN General Assembly on Thursday.
“We simply did not do enough with regards to the cholera outbreak and its spread in Haiti … We are profoundly sorry for our role,” Ban said.
According to numerous independent experts, cholera was introduced to Haiti by infected Nepalese UN peacekeepers sent to the Caribbean country after the massive 2010 earthquake.
Cholera, a disease that is transmitted through contaminated drinking water and causes acute diarrhoea, is a major challenge in a country with poor sanitary conditions.
The UN reiterated its rejection of claims that it is also legally responsible for the damages from the health emergency.
“We do not change our basic legal position,” UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson told reporters on Thursday.
The UN chief also formally presented the 193-nation General Assembly with a “new approach”, a two-pronged programme to help the families of the cholera victims and support the battle against the disease.
The UN hopes the new proposal will raise $400m over two years, but funding for prior UN assistance to Haiti has been slow to arrive.
Ban urged donors to finance the programme and confirmed on Thursday that two programmes were planned, each costing $200m.
One will strengthen the fight against the epidemic, which resurged after Hurricane Matthew devastated the country in early October, and improve the country’s sanitary infrastructure.
Some 72 percent of Haitians have no toilets at home and 42 percent still lack access to drinking water, the UN says.
The other programme includes measures to prioritise aid to cholera victims and their families. It would support locally led projects, such as healthcare, micro-lending and education financing.
The UN also plans to directly disburse money for each person who died of cholera. But it is difficult to count and identify all the direct victims of the disease owing to the country’s weak statistics.
“The community approach is the preferred option,” said Eliasson. “Individual payment is difficult.”
The UN has already raised $18m for the fight against the disease and $132m for sanitation improvement.
However, for direct aid to victims, the donations have been much less forthcoming and the modalities of that programme remain unclear.