UN Chief in Haiti Gets Glimpse of Matthew’s Destruction

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon makes a gesture of solidarity to people whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Matthew, as he visits a school where they have sought shelter in Les Cayes, Haiti, Saturday. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon makes a gesture of solidarity to people whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Matthew, as he visits a school where they have sought shelter in Les Cayes, Haiti, Saturday. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived Saturday in Haiti to see firsthand a sliver of the extensive destruction left by Hurricane Matthew as storm victims continued to express frustration at delays in aid more than a week-and-a-half since the Category 4 storm hit.

Stepping out of a U.N. jet at the airport in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, Ban was greeted by Prime Minister Enex Jean-Charles before the pair boarded a helicopter traveling to the storm-damaged southern city of Les Cayes. Ban was scheduled to visit one of many schools serving as an emergency shelter for families who lost homes.

Shortly before Ban’s helicopter was due to land, a clash broke out between rock-throwing residents and U.N. peacekeepers at the U.N. base in Les Cayes. Roughly 100 frustrated residents began hurling rocks when trucks ferrying food aid arrived. Haitian police officers and U.N. peacekeepers scattered the group with tear gas. Calm was restored as Ban’s helicopter approached.

In recent days, Associated Press reporters have observed a number of skirmishes between Haitians in hard-hit areas seeking emergency food aid distributed by international and local organizations.

During his brief visit, Ban was not expected to announce specifics of a U.N. package announced two months ago that would provide “material assistance” to Haitian cholera victims. Officials said that consultations and other work has been delayed by the latest postponed presidential election in Haiti and Matthew’s destruction.

In August, the U.N. for the first time acknowledged that it played a role in introducing cholera to Haiti and vowed to aid victims in the troubled Caribbean nation, which has experienced the worst outbreak of the disease in recent history. At that time, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said that that “the United Nations has a moral responsibility to the victims.”

The U.N. for years had denied or been silent about ample evidence that cholera was introduced to Haiti’s biggest river in October 2010 by inadequately treated sewage from a U.N. peacekeeping base about 10 months after a devastating earthquake. The world body has answered lawsuits in U.S. courts by claiming immunity under a 1946 convention.

Beatrice Lindstrom, a human rights lawyer with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, said activists were hopeful that Ban would use his brief visit to “address the Haitian people directly and fully acknowledge the U.N.’s responsibility for introducing cholera to Haiti.”

“The need for a new U.N. response that both controls and eliminates cholera and compensates the victims who have suffered so much is now more dire than ever,” she said.

Ban to depart for Ecuador’s capital of Quito late Saturday.

Health authorities in hurricane-ravaged southwest Haiti say they have been struggling with a surge of patients with cholera in the wake of the storm. Matthew’s eye made landfall as a Category 4 storm on Oct. 4 in a rugged region of southwest Haiti that’s home to more than 1 million people.

The wreckage left behind by the hurricane has created perfect conditions for spreading the waterborne disease. Matthew sent rivers and outdoor latrines overflowing across the mountainous landscape.

Cholera, caused by bacteria that produce severe diarrhea and is contracted by drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food, is easily treatable if caught in time and the proper treatment is provided. But it can lead to a rapid, agonizing death through complete dehydration.