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Last updated at 12:26 BST, Friday, 10 May 2013

Haiti cholera victims threaten UN

Summary

10 May 2013

Victims of the cholera epidemic in Haiti have given the United Nations a 60 day deadline to start talks about compensation or face legal action. The victims, including the families of 8,000 dead and hundreds of thousands of people who have fallen sick, accuse the UN of allowing soldiers to pollute Haiti's water supply with cholera.

Reporter:

Mark Doyle

People in Haiti wait outside a hospital

People in Haiti wait outside a hospital treating people for cholera.

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Report

The cholera epidemic began in Haiti near a camp for UN soldiers where there were leaking sewage pipes. Some human waste was also dumped outside the camp near a river. One of the UN's own experts on cholera, Danielle Lantagne, told the BBC it was "most likely" the disease originated in the UN camp. It housed UN soldiers from Nepal, where cholera is endemic.

The UN rejected an earlier call for compensation in this unprecedented case against the world body, saying it was immune from such claims. But the victims' lawyers say the UN is breaking international law. If mediation talks don't begin within 60 days, the lawyers say, they'll open legal proceedings in New York with claims totalling many billions of dollars.

The lawyers say they'll file claims for $100,000 for the families of those who have lost a loved one and $50,000 for every one of the hundreds of thousands of people who have fallen sick. The UN has said very little on the matter, apart from to insist it is immune from legal proceedings. At the same time, it may also be true that the United Nations simply doesn't know what to do in the face of what could have been a series of catastrophic and deadly errors. In private, UN officials say they're facing a moral crisis. Now they may be about to confront a very public legal battle as well.

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Vocabulary

cholera

a serious disease, caused by drinking infected water

epidemic

when a disease spreads without control

sewage

human waste

originated

started

endemic

present in a particular area

unprecedented

something which has never happened before

immune

not able to be affected by something bad; protected

mediation talks

conversations to help reach an agreement

to insist

to say something with force

catastrophic

extremely harmful

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