Desperate Haitians pummeled by Hurricane Matthew looted United Nations trucks on Saturday shortly before UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived for a visit. The Category 4 hurricane tore through Haiti on Oct. 4, killing about 1,000 people and leaving more than 1.4 million in need of humanitarian aid, including 175,000 made homeless.
The storm also disrupted power, communications and transport links. “We will mobilize all the resources to help you,” Ban told a handful of residents gathered at a local school being used as a shelter for hurricane victims. “Stay strong.” Tensions are high in Les Cayes and elsewhere in Haiti’s southwest region because help has yet to reach many families whose crops and water supplies were destroyed, increasing the risk of cholera and malnutrition.
A coordinator for the American wing of the World Health Organization said the UN base was shut down after looting of two World Food Programme food containers outside the base on Saturday.
As Ban approached his car to leave the school amid heavy security, locals shouted, “Our houses were destroyed … Help us!”
Ban’s visit was a chance to improve the UN’s standing among Haitians who protested on Thursday against the death of a motorcyclist in an accident they blamed on blue-helmeted peacekeepers.
It was also an opportunity for the South Korean to burnish his legacy at the world body before his final term expires at year end. Ban’s tenure has been tarnished by rape allegations in Central African Republic and a cholera epidemic in Haiti, both blamed on UN peacekeepers.
Cholera has stalked the regions of Haiti affected by the hurricane, as towns dotting the coastline – many of which had not had the disease in months – have reported spikes in the number of cases and deaths. Many Haitians lack access to drinkable water after the storm.
Haiti had no documented cholera cases until 2010, months after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake leveled much of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Multiple scientific studies have traced the outbreak to a base in Mirebalais used by Nepalese peacekeepers, about an hour outside of the capital, and the strain of cholera is virtually identical to one endemic in Nepal.