Protesters in Haiti attack UN peacekeepers in cholera backlash

Crowds hurled rocks, set up burning barricades and blocked roads to protest over the foreign troops and the government’s response to the crisis, London’s Guardian reports.

Protesters in Haiti have attacked UN peacekeepers over suspicion that Nepalese soldiers brought the cholera epidemic which has swept the country and killed 1,000 people.

Crowds in two northern towns hurled rocks, set up burning barricades and blocked roads to protest the foreign troops and the government’s response to the crisis, rattling authorities and the UN in the run to a November 28 election.

Cap-Haitien, the country’s second city, was this morning cut off from the rest of Haiti after a day of rioting shut its roads and airport and left more than a dozen people wounded. Clashes in the town of Hinche injured seven Nepalese peacekeepers, according to local radio.

The flare-ups followed mounting anger and fear over a disease which many blame on effluent from a base used by Nepalese troops in the Artibonite valley, where the outbreak began three weeks ago.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the strain, which has infected more than 15,000 people and reached all 10 departments, resembled one from south Asia. Haiti’s first epidemic in living memory began in the valley a week after the Nepalese arrived.

UN officials have admitted problems with the base’s sanitation but denied its soldiers brought the disease, which is spread by contaminated faeces. No official investigation into the epidemic’s origin has been launched despite appeals from Haitian leaders and foreign epidemiologists.

“In Haiti most of the population believes it came from the Nepalese and that the UN will do its best to hide it,” said Prospery Raymond, country director of the UK-based NGO Christian Aid. “If it is confirmed to be from them this will be damaging for the UN and their peacekeeping all over the world.”

The outbreak has flooded clinics and hospitals with vomiting, diarrhea-stricken patients. Experts say more than 200,000 could become infected in coming months.

With no previous knowlege of cholera many Haitians are unsure how to avoid contagion. Experts say washing hands with soap, especially after going to the toilet, is the best prevention. Treatment – usually an IV drip and rehydration – is relatively simple and fast and saves the vast majority of those infected.

Even so, emergency teams are worried. “If it keeps accelerating we will not be able to keep up,” said Francois Servranckx, spokesperson for Doctors Without Borders, an NGO which has treated 10,000 patients at improvised tent clinics.

Donors credit the UN peacekeeping force, known as Minustah, with keeping the Caribbean nation relatively stable in recent years despite food price riots, hurricanes and January’s earthquake. Many Haitians however brand the blue helmets an expensive and useless occupation force.

Haitians are also critical of their government for letting the disease spread from the Artibonite valley to cities where millions live in slums, rubble and tents. “Now it’s here and they’re wringing their hands. Not good enough!” said Alfred Roberts, a father of two in the capital Port-au-Prince.

The outbreak has put a question mark over whether presidential and legislative elections, already troubled by logistical and political problems, will go ahead on schedule later this month.

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