Haiti vote to go ahead amid rising death toll, Reuters reports

The death tolls in Haiti from hurricane Tomas and a raging cholera epidemic have risen, but a top UN official said yesterday there were “no objective reasons” why elections should not be held this month in the earthquake-ravaged Caribbean country. Tomas swiped Haiti on Friday, bringing rain and flooding but largely sparing crowded tent and tarpaulin camps in the capital housing hundreds of thousands of homeless survivors of the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake.

At least 20 people were killed in the flooding, mostly in southern provinces, local civil protection officials said.

Haiti’s uphill recovery from the earthquake, helped by a big United Nations-led relief effort, has also been compounded by the deadly cholera epidemic that broke out last month.

The death toll from this dehydrating diarrheal disease reached 544 by Saturday, with more than 8,100 cases of hospitalization recorded, Haitian and international health officials said.

With UN peacekeepers and humanitarian agencies stretched between the storm and cholera response and the post-quake recovery, questions have arisen over whether Haiti can hold credible presidential and legislative elections as scheduled on Nov. 28. The latter were already postponed from February.

But the UN’s top representative in the country, Edmond Mulet, said no discussions were being held with the government and electoral authorities about postponing the polls.

“There are no objective reasons not to have elections on Nov. 28. Technically, logistically, security, budget, all is in place,” Mulet said in an email response to questions.

This month’s vote will elect a successor to President Rene Preval, a 99-member parliament and 11 members of the 30-seat Senate, choosing leaders to steer Haiti’s recovery from the crippling quake that wrecked Port-au-Prince.

Analysts say the elections could be the most important in Haiti’s history, but many see the path to the polls threatened by risks of political violence, as well as the huge humanitarian challenges.

Health experts say they are concerned that flood waters from Hurricane Tomas could multiply the risks from cholera, which is spread by contaminated water and food. Cholera can kill in hours, but if caught early can be easily treated through oral rehydration.

The main focus of the cholera outbreak has been the Artibonite River watershed that straddles central Haiti. The river was seen as a major factor in spreading the disease, and flooding from Tomas would make this worse.

For the original Reuters report go to http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Haiti+vote+ahead+amid+rising+death+toll/3797841/story.html

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