Cholera Outbreak Highlights Plight of Haiti's Poor

Although U.N officials are concerned the cholera epidemic in Haiti could spread to "tens of thousands of cases" and become the next big catastrophe that many had feared, it is not the devastating hurricane many had conjectured. In fact, it is a disease that should not be wiping out communities at all in this day and age. This disease, which is primarily caused by drinking dirty, toxic water, was not a result of the earthquake. This is yet another example of the plight of the poor in developing countries.

In the U.S., clean water flows from our faucets and we still purchase designer water. In developing countries like Haiti, clean water is kilometers away and for basically many unreachable. In fact, worldwide 1.4 million children will die this year from waterborne diseases. That's more than 3,800 children every day-yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Cholera is an easily treatable disease that infects the small intestine causing diarrhea and vomiting so severe it can kill someone in a matter of mere hours. The simple and inexpensive cure for cholera is immediate administration of oral rehydration salts to replace lost fluids. But for the people of Haiti who have long struggled with malnutrition and lack of clean water, a "cure" is elusive.

Fifty-four percent of Haitians lived in abject poverty, meaning they did not have access to such basic amenities such as clean water, before the earthquake hit. And, clean water has since become more scarce.

I write from the experience of traveling in the countries where Compassion International works with the poorest of the poor to rescue children who live in dire conditions. Our child development centers in Haiti are providing purified water, water sanitation tablets and water filtration systems to the Compassion-assisted children and their families. These children are simply receiving what we in America would call a necessity but for the people of Haiti a tremendous luxury.

The last cholera epidemic in Haiti 100 years ago remains part of the island nation's history. Without access to clean water, inexpensive medical treatments and basic education, the poor in Haiti as well as other countries will continue to suffer and die needlessly from survivable diseases. The only way to effectively beat these ancient enemies that prey on the poor is to defeat poverty. The good news is we have the tools with which to do this. Extreme poverty that leads to this kind of suffering can be defeated in our lifetime. If this happens, the power that diseases like cholera have will be a thing of the past.

Progress in Haiti has been made, but while we often forgo clean drinking water from our facets for designer water which totals about $8 per gallon-or four days of wages for a typical Haitian-it is clear much more needs to be done before we can even begin to imagine the end of poverty.

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