Love In A Time Of Cholera

Voice of America News reports the first confirmed case of cholera in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti.  A cholera outbreak has been raging across that unfortunate country, killing over 500 people.  Port-au-Prince is jammed with refugees from the earthquake last January.  Floods from last week’s Hurricane Tomas could make the situation even worse.  The camps are perfect breeding grounds for the deadly disease, which is still a deadly threat to the Third World, despite being all but eliminated in developed countries.

Cholera spreads through contaminated food and water, and thrives in areas with poor sanitation.  These are among the first elements of the infrastructure to be improved in an advanced nation, which leads us to underestimate the difficulty of securing them in conditions of low technology and poverty.  The World Health Organization estimates three to five million cases of the disease around the world each year, with over a hundred thousand fatalities.

Curiously, the strain of cholera rampaging through Haiti appears to originate in South Asia, leading to speculation it might have been brought from Nepal by U.N. peacekeepers, who were based near the source of the outbreak.  The Associated Press reports the United Nations Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti, Paul Farmer, has called for an “aggressive investigation into the origin of the outbreak.”

Cholera is but a symptom of the truly fatal disease: poverty.  Haiti suffers from generational poverty on a heartbreaking scale, magnifying the deadly effects of natural disasters and outbreaks of disease.  Those refugees have been packed into Port-au-Prince for almost a year.  Relief agencies are understandably worried about a fast-spreading contagion ripping through such a dense population.

Aid workers from around the world have been laboring to help the people of Haiti.  The United States is, unsurprisingly, the largest single source of foreign aid, but many other nations and private organizations have donated heavily.  The ability to project compassion across the seas, with tangible results, is the prerogative of wealthy and powerful nations.  They do the suffering people of the world no favors by weakening their economies until they cannot afford such compassion, or indulging Marxist fantasies among developing nations that must learn the relationship between freedom, prosperity, and survival.  Those who romanticize pre-industrial, “sustainable” lifestyles should remember it was 20th-century technology that ended cholera pandemics in the Western world.  Haiti awaits the day it can grow strong enough to come off life support.