In Haiti, the UN is looking into the possibility that a peacekeeping mission from Nepal might have sparked the cholera outbreak there, following the release of this photo, showing waste from the Nepalese base being dumped into a river in the Artibonite region where the outbreak started.
U.N. investigators took samples of foul-smelling waste trickling behind a Nepalese peacekeeping base toward an infected river system on Wednesday, following persistent accusations that excrement from the newly arrived unit caused the cholera epidemic that has sickened more than 4,000 people in the earthquake-ravaged nation.
Associated Press journalists who were visiting the base unannounced happened upon the investigators. Mission spokesman Vincenzo Pugliese confirmed after the visit that the military team was testing for cholera – the first public acknowledgment that the 12,000-member force is directly investigating allegations its base played a role in the outbreak.
Cholera is pandemic in much of the world but almost unheard of in the Western Hemisphere. It is endemic to Nepal, which suffered outbreaks this summer. A recent article in the Japanese Journal of Infectious Diseases about outbreaks in 2008-09 said the strain found by researchers was “Vibrio cholerae O1 Ogawa biotype El Tor.”
The U.N. issued a statement on Tuesday defending the base. It said the Nepalese unit there uses seven sealed septic tanks built to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, emptied every week by a private company to a landfill site a safe 820 feet (250 meters) from the river.
But those are not the conditions AP found on Wednesday.
A buried septic tank inside the fence was overflowing and the stench of excrement wafted in the air. Broken pipes jutting out from the back spewed liquid. One, positioned directly behind latrines, poured out a reeking black flow from frayed plastic pipe which dribbled down to the river where people were bathing.
The landfill sites, across the street, are a series of open pits uphill from family homes. Ducks swim and pigs wallow in pools of runoff. The pits abut a steep slope which heads straight down to the river, with visible signs where water has flowed during recent heavy rains.
Apparently, today the Nepalese government started blocking websites which all had one thing in common: reporting this investigation.