Did the UN Bring Cholera to Haiti?

Richard Fernandez of Pajamas Media highlights a disturbing story, and one which brings yet another layer of misery to an area already wallowing in it. I see nothing to discredit the story at this point, and while not implying that anything intentional or sinister happened, it’s still a potential disaster of staggering proportions.

Laboratory tests have confirmed that Nepalese UN Peacekeepers accidentally caused the death of 5,000 Haitians from cholera. The Independent quotes an investigation’s conclusion: “The sanitation conditions at the Mirebalais Minustah camp were not sufficient to prevent faecal contamination of the Meye Tributary System of the Artibonite River with human faecal waste”. The Artibonite River provided tens of thousands of Haitians with drinking water.

One of the larger themes here isn’t the plight of the Haitians or the incompetence of the UN or anything to do with natural disasters. As Fernandez points out, there is a lesson here for all of us relating to the law of unintended consequences, and what happens when we go in – even with the best of intentions – and tamper with things we may not fully understand.

Today we think that we can manage the climate by regulating Greenhouse Gases; by taxing certain kinds of activity. But human action always involves irreducible risk. Even policies designed on the “precautionary principle” or on the basis of a “responsibility to protect” cannot be proofed against the law of unintended consequences. The Nepalese Peacekeepers had a uninvited Irish recruit named Murphy. Sh** happens. It often does.

None of this should be surprising. We brought snakes to Hawaii and rabbits and cats to Australia. That’s not to say we *shouldn’t* have done those things. Mankind is built to explore. But gauging our actions means that we have to be aware that the world will always be several degrees more complex than we think it is. And as they used to say in the old Chiffon Margarine commercials, it’s not nice to fool mother nature.