By Adam R. Houston and Beatrice Lindstrom
In recent weeks, the United Nations Department of Peace Operations announced a series of protocol changes to reduce the risk that peacekeepers will introduce COVID-19 into vulnerable countries. As the introduction of cholera to Haiti in 2010 by UN peacekeepers demonstrates, such preventative measures are critical. Yet there is cause for concern that the lessons from cholera in Haiti have not translated into adequate action to protect peacekeeping host communities from the preventable transmission of disease.
Peacekeeping presents a unique risk of introducing diseases into the world’s most vulnerable places. Since the World Health Organization (WHO) first declared the novel coronavirus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern in January, peacekeepers from over 120 countries have been involved in UN missions, traveling in and out of extremely fragile states. As Under Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix observed, “the places where [UN] peacekeepers operate—vulnerable civilians there are the most at risk… [they are] fragile political environments, where individuals are living in conflict-affected or post-conflict societies with little to no infrastructure or social and sanitary safety nets.”
This risk posed by peacekeeping is not merely hypothetical. In Haiti, over 10,000 people died and close to a million were infected with cholera following the introduction of the disease from a UN compound in 2010. Cholera broke out there for the first time in the country’s history after the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) failed to effectively screen peacekeepers before their deployment from Nepal—a cholera-endemic country in the midst of its own outbreak—and allowed contaminated waste from its base’s toilets to enter the waterways many Haitians rely on for drinking, washing, and growing crops. Continue reading,,,