Violence and cholera threaten to delay Haiti elections

Reuters/Allison Shelley

United Nations officials are warning Haiti's cholera epidemic has been seriously under-estimated. Meanwhile, political violence has sparked postponement calls for elections scheduled for Sunday.


A cholera epidemic has so far killed more than 1,400 people, with another 56,000 cases registered. UN health officials warn that the death toll is probably underestimated and predict the island could see up to 200,000 cholera cases in the next three months and 400,000 over the next year.

Human rights groups advise against an election during the epidemic, but the Haitian authorities say the polls will go ahead as planned.

Correspondent Ansel Herz visited a northern region, where some hospitals are working with very few doctors and hardly any basic medical supplies.

Ansel Herz, Port au Prince

“In those zones people are just dying in their homes. They’re not able to get to the hospital,” said Herz. “The UN and private NGOs have been caught totally flat-footed.”

Heavy rain has exacerbated the situation, making the roads impassable.

Haitians are not interested in voting, according to Herz.

“They’re disgusted with the entire political class of Haiti and with the government’s lack of response to the earthquake,” says Herz. “This election can in no way be credible.”

Another problem is that of the largest parties in the country, Fanmi Lavalas, is being excluded on a political basis.

Other countries have failed to deliver on aid promises made in the aftermath of January’s earthquake, so reconstruction has hardly begun. An expo which was to examine new housing designs was pushed back from October to January.

“The reconstruction process has hardly started and it’s the fault of the government and of the international community,” says Herz.

Police confirmed Monday that two people were shot dead in the southwesterly town of Beaumont, after supporters of leading candidates Jude Celestin and Charles Henri Baker clashed with bottles, rocks and firearms.

Former prime minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis, who is in the running for president, insists the elections must go ahead as planned.

US ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten also warns against a delay in the polls, saying issues surrounding the disease and the election can be avoided "as long as people are informed of how they can protect themselves from cholera and what treatment to seek".

The run-up to the elections has been further complicated by anti-UN riots in several regions, particularly in the north where aid agencies say their cholera response is being severely restricted.

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