Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.

Journalist George Russell, Haiti & the UN

Journalists who specialize in the UN are rare; George Russell’s retirement is unhappy news.

It’s amazing that major newspapers and television stations pay so little attention to the United Nations, given its extraordinary reach, the sheer number of its many fingers, and the keenness with which it attempts to interfere in every corner of our lives.

I’ve observed elsewhere that while Presidents and Prime Ministers come and go, the UN machine persists. Experienced teams of reporters should be closely monitoring this organization. But that doesn’t happen.

Journalists who specialize in the UN are rare. Editors who think this behemoth should be systematically scrutinized are scarce. Which is why George Russell’s recent retirement is unwelcome news.

Russell is a longtime veteran of America’s Time magazine, back when that brand was still respected. In 2000, he became president and editor of Time magazine Canada.

Afterward, between 2005 and late 2018, Russell kept a close eye on the UN over at FoxNews. His articles should be bundled into a textbook of required reading for journalism students. That textbook might be called The UN’s Sordid Record. 

For example, Russell wrote about the UN’s campaign of denial and misinformation concerning the cholera epidemic it introduced into Haiti. The extremely short version of that story is as follows:

UN peacekeepers had been stationed in that exceptionally poor, exceptionally dysfunctional country since 2004 in order to keep a lid on violence and crime. The power of UN officials was therefore immense, rivaling and perhaps exceeding that of elected Haitian officials.

When an earthquake devastated Haiti in January 2010, rebuilding was a huge job and many of the UN’s actions and decisions were newsworthy. In October of that year, a new contingent of UN peacekeepers arrived in a rural area that hadn’t been harmed by the quake nine months earlier.

Cholera causes extreme diarrhea and vomiting. If not treated quickly, acute dehydration leads to death. Cholera had never before been recorded in Haiti (journalists, including Russell, have sometimes been confused about this point, but medical experts are adamant).

These particular peacekeepers were from Nepal, which had just experienced a cholera outbreak. The UN didn’t vaccinate them beforehand. It didn’t perform tests to ensure they weren’t carrying the disease prior to their arrival. Some of these men were, in fact, infected. The disease likely spread to their colleagues in transit.

An Al Jazeera English news report from Haiti, October 2010.

The sewage tanks at their Haiti encampment were routinely emptied into a nearby open pit. On one occasion, shortly after their arrival, an immense amount of sewage was dumped into a river, apparently because the open pit was already overflowing.

Ordinary people drank the water downstream. They bathed in it. It contaminated their buckets, their cooking pots, and their clothing.

This triggered what has been called the world’s worst cholera epidemic. More than 10,000 Haitians have died since then. More than 800,000 have been infected.

Yet many people still have no idea the UN was responsible.

.

Links to Russell’s articles about Haiti appear below, in chronological order. Of special interest is one at the bottom of the list, titled UN apologizes for Haiti’s cholera epidemic without noting it brought the disease.

Another one begins this way:

United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world for years poured untreated or untested sewage into public waters…and only sporadically kept the environmental safety and sanitation records that missions are supposed to…

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This entry was posted on February 20, 2019 by in media and tagged , , , .
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