January 13, 2014

Cholera in Haiti


Maggie: It has been four years since a powerful earthquake rocked Haiti, killing more than 100,000 people and leaving behind $13 billion in damage. But, Tom, now Haiti is dealing with a different disaster.

Tom: Yeah, Maggie. Haiti is facing another killer, a disease that is typically preventable if you have the money and the resources to do so. But instead, Haitians are relying on a small army of volunteers to help. Take a look.

Nineteen-year-old Samuel Marseila is trying to change his country.

Samuel Marseila: I don’t like when my brothers and sisters die from something that I can prevent.

Tom: Samuel is a teacher with World Water Relief, a group that installs filtration systems in schools so there is access to clean water. Getting clean water is a big problem in Haiti, and often only the people who can afford it are able to get it.

Even before the earthquake hit in 2010, Haitians had one of the worst water systems in the Western Hemisphere. And the disaster only made it worse, allowing a cholera crisis to spread farther. Cholera, spread through human waste, causes vomiting and diarrhea, and if not treated quickly, it can be deadly. More than 700,000 Haitians have been sickened and more than 8,000 have died. It is the biggest cholera epidemic in recent history.

The same strain of cholera also continues to spread. It has been found in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and now Mexico. But there was no cholera in Haiti before the 2010 earthquake. That is why human rights groups are suing the United Nations on behalf of the Haitian people. They claim UN workers brought in the disease in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Nicole Phillips: The people thought that that water was still safe to drink and they kept drinking it. And now the cholera has spread so far into the river systems that it would be impossible to eradicate.

Tom: Forensic studies, including one ordered by the UN, have linked the spread of the disease to a broken sewage system at a UN base. Tests show the culprit bacteria came from Southeast Asia. That very same sewage system leaked into a popular river used by the people to cook, clean and bathe.

And officials say it will take $500 million over two years to build a proper sanitation system. Money that, right now, Haiti simply doesn’t have.

Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe: The country is coming back from what I like to call, ‘we were fifty stories underground after the earthquake’. Right now we are twenty stories underground. So we still have much to do.

Tom: Today, clinics are still overrun with the sick. And Haitians are so poor, many who get sick can’t even pay for transportation to get to a hospital.

The UN says it will not pay victims for their suffering because, legally, it can’t be held responsible. So, for now, the country is relying largely on ground-level efforts like this with volunteers just like Samuel.

Samuel: I think I will change Haiti.

Tom: He knows it won’t be easy, but every drop helps.

And according to the United Nations, Haiti is home to about half of the world’s cholera cases.

Maggie: For more about what happened in Haiti after the quake, go to


One comment on “Cholera in Haiti

  1. David Malone

    My students want to help the students in Haiti with their drinking water during the cholera outbreak. We’d like to know where we can donate some funds to help with their water crisis.


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