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Cholera in Haiti: a foreseeable result of a criminal system
The following excerpts from an article from A World to Win News Service are about the cholera epidemic now devastating Haiti. Cholera is an acute bacterial infection of the intestine that causes intense diarrhea and vomiting—it can kill a person within hours if untreated. But if there is prompt medical care, most people with cholera can be successfully treated if they just are given water with sugar and salt. Cholera is most often spread through water contaminated by human waste, and cholera epidemics can be easily prevented if clean water and sanitation systems are available.
November 8, 2010. A World to Win News Service. Unlike the earthquake that hit Haiti last January, the cholera outbreak was predictable and preventable. The danger is far greater because of the earthquake, but the disease might have struck even without that destruction. People have known for many years that this was possible unless serious sanitation measures were taken.
Already many thousands of people have fallen ill with acute diarrhea and more than 540 have died of it. So far most of the confirmed cases have occurred in the Lower Artibonite River, in the rural Central Plateau region north of the capital. The river is believed to have recently become infected with the bacteria that causes the disease.
Just after the cholera epidemic struck, Hurricane Tomás made the Artibonite overflow. The floodwaters have further isolated some people from medical help, forced others to flee and may spread the contamination. There is fear that the disease may reach the crowded capital. Suspected cases have appeared in Cité Soleil, a huge shantytown that lies in the direction of the Artibonite Valley.
No one knows how rapidly this disease will spread. Even if efforts to contain it succeed, it is likely to become yet another affliction for Haiti's people for some time to come.
Most often cholera spreads through water contaminated by human excrement. There is a cruel irony to the fact that infected drinking water causes people to die of dehydration, the emptying of the water in their bodies due to a diarrhea so intense it can kill in a few hours. The key to preventing or containing it is clean drinking water. It's that simple. That's what people are dying for lack of, in a world marked by unprecedented riches and scientific and technological progress.
The Artibonite region was not heavily damaged by the earthquake, although the situation there has been made more difficult by the influx of homeless people forced to return from the capital. The dangers created by the people's dependence on river water have been known for a long time. This beautiful river is central to people's lives. People live alongside it, bath in it, wash their clothes and themselves in it and drink it. They can't afford the fuel to boil water before they drink it. No matter how careful they try to be about sanitation and cleanliness, everything they do in their daily lives with the only plentiful water at hand can kill them and spread the disease.
Most people infected by the disease don't fall ill, although they can spread it anyway. Malnutrition can make them more vulnerable. Treatment should be simple: water with a little salt and sugar will keep the majority of people alive even without hospitalization, and intravenous fluids can help almost all of the rest to survive. In some cases antibiotics are needed to save people, and they can help prevent the infection from spreading.
Cholera first appeared in the nineteenth century and has spread around the globe six times before….
Cholera epidemics are often associated not just with poverty, but changes in how people live due to natural disasters, population displacements, unplanned rapid urbanization and especially the kinds of large-scale social breakdowns that make it impossible for communities to keep up their sanitary conditions….
One reason cholera victims in Haiti need hospital treatment is that the amount of clean water they need to drink to avoid dying of dehydration, about 20 litres a day, just isn't available anywhere else. And what are people supposed to wash with to prevent spreading and catching the disease? What toilets can they use? They can and should take precautions, but on the whole there isn't much they can do in this context. The health crisis reflects a social crisis.
Some of the reasons why clean water is missing in Haiti were documented by several U.S. and Haitian-based groups, including Partners for Health, an organization that has been working in Haiti for decades. They issued a report entitled "Woch nan Soley: The Denial of the Right to Water in Haiti" two years before the cholera outbreak.
One detail in that report has suddenly claimed people's attention. In 1998, the Inter-American Development Bank decided to lend the Haitian government 54 million dollars to improve the water system nationally. Specific upgrading projects included the city of St. Marc and the surrounding Artibonite department where today's outbreak first occurred. Later the U.S. got the IADB to block this loan as part of a covert program to destabilize the elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
The continuing lack of any public spending on water since then has created a deteriorating situation where the only clean water available is provided by private companies, and most people can't afford to buy enough of it no matter how much they love their children. Even before the cholera outbreak, other kinds of infectious diarrhea and gastrointestinal infections, highly preventable diseases that need not exist anywhere in today's world, became the leading cause of death of young children. Among the countries ranked by a world survey of "water poverty," Haiti ranked last long before the earthquake.
In other words, during the last 16 years that Haiti has been occupied by various combinations of UN and U.S. troops—and not just since the earthquake—most people's lives have gotten much worse….
In March 2010, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised 1.15 billion dollars to reconstruct the country's infrastructure. Not a single penny of this has been delivered. (Associated Press, November 4, 2010)….
Most of the money promised by international organizations and other countries also never appeared.
Many plans were drawn up to put up housing, install solar power and building roads. But since then not even the rubble left by the earthquake has been cleared. Land ownership issues have contributed to a deadlock in which nothing has been done to restore even the impoverished infrastructure that once existed.
The U.S. and others have provided emergency humanitarian assistance. This and private charity has paid for emergency medical programs, tents, a little food and a few other things to keep people from dropping dead in such large numbers as to cause violent social unrest (which the UN troops are still there to prevent) with possible global implications. But this situation is not sustainable. Ever since last January conscientious NGO workers and others have been saying that without a fundamental turn in the situation, further disaster was inevitable, including possibly cholera.
It is particularly damning that most of the suspected cholera cases in the crowded capital so far have appeared not among the homeless stuck in temporary camps but in Cité Soleil, where people are living under the same conditions as before the earthquake….
The opening up of the Haitian economy to the world market ruined its peasants (leading, among other things, to massive migration into Port au Prince and other cities, and an enormous number of immigrants abroad whose checks are the main source of income for their families back home). But international capital has not flocked to exploit the Haitian people. In fact, despite drooling in American business publications about a "Bangladesh next door," efforts to encourage the establishment of low-wage factories for export products have not prospered. One important reason is the U.S.'s inability to set up the kind of politically stable regime foreign capital investment requires. This is largely a result of both the fact and the form of the U.S.'s own long-standing political domination, including the feelings this has created among the people.
Haiti is imprisoned in a criminally insane situation where people are dying of diseases other countries wiped out a century and a half ago. There is so much work crying out to be done to save the people, so many ditches to dig, pipes to be laid and homes, schools and hospitals to be built, even if rubble were the only building material and arms the only machinery. So many people are crying out for work and a chance to rescue themselves and their country. Yet nothing will be done if it doesn't profit some capitalist and especially U.S. imperialist capital.
For the imperialists and their Haitian henchmen, the people of Haiti are a big problem. But in reality they are the only possible solution. When revolution frees Haiti's people from imperialist political and military domination and the tyranny of the profit system, when a revolutionary regime can put the welfare of the people first and increasingly enable the people to become the conscious masters of all spheres of society, Haitians could rapidly free themselves from scourges like cholera as they take their first steps toward a world worthy of human potential.