The Cholera outbreak in Haiti which struck following the 2010 earthquake, which was the seventh such global outbreak (all the others had completely bypassed Haiti), does not mean that no response from the international community would have been better than the one that happened. Nevertheless, it was big enough to impact the amount such international aid did eventually help the devastated country.
It is widely accepted the source of this outbreak was Nepali troops deployed as part of the UN relief mission, stationed in a base on a tributary leading into the Artibonite River which is the suspected source. How do we know this? Firstly, Jonathan Katz, a reporter, visited the base after these allegations from locals, to discover that sanitation conditions where much different to what the official statement declared.
Secondly, in this area, largely unaffected by the earthquake, there were few other foreign influences.
Thirdly, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention identified the strain of Cholera as one found in South Asia.
Fourthly, after substantial pressure, the UN itself in a report accepted the source as that from Nepali soldiers.
About 100,000-160,000 Haitians died in the earthquake. Just over 8,000 from the Cholera outbreak. Thus, 6-8% of the total which died in the earthquake were killed as a result of the UN response to relieve the initial suffering of the three million survivors.
Clearly, it is likely that more than 8,000 would have died had there been no international response. Not to mention the millions who would have suffered greatly. Nevertheless, just as interventionists constantly tout the positives of that great calamity of mankind, war, such as lower unemployment or the development of certain technologies, it is only right for us isolationists to highlight the negatives of attempts to alleviate calamities, such as earthquakes. This is justified to gain a fuller picture of the costs and benefits of foreign policy actions.
This tragedy highlights several things. The UN’s reliance on soldiers from very poor countries, such as Nepal (this is because countries are paid for every soldier they contribute, and is a vital source of income for cash-strapped third-world militaries), carries with it disadvantages.
The UN is an organization like any other and looks after its own interests, as evidenced by its initial denial, stone-walling, and subsequent refusal to pay compensation to Haiti by invoking the ‘Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations’ when the Haitian government sought to sue the UN.
But most importantly, and this is a theme which this blog will repeatedly come back to, the world is a complex place. It is impossible to know the consequences of our actions, especially on the international stage.
This international aid was clearly the right thing to do. Nevertheless, whether something is right or wrong, the spectre of unintended consequences is forever present.
It is a major reason why isolationism is often the correct response to foreign policy ‘problems’.