United Nations, Dec 2: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has apologised for the first time to the people of Haiti for the role played by the UN peacekeepers in sparking a devastating cholera epidemic in the country, expressing deep regret for the loss of life caused by the disease. “On behalf of the United Nations, I want to say very clearly: we apologise to the Haitian people,” Ban told UN General Assembly here three times — in Haitian Creole, French and English.

“We simply did not do enough with regard to the cholera outbreak and its spread in Haiti. We are profoundly sorry for our role,” he said yesterday. Haiti has been dealing with a cholera outbreak since October 2010, some nine months after it suffered a devastating earthquake. The outbreak has affected an estimated 788,000 people and claimed the lives of more than 9,000. Concerted national and international efforts, backed by the UN, have resulted in a 90 per cent reduction in the number of suspected cases.

According to several experts, cholera was introduced to Haiti by infected Nepalese UN peacekeepers sent to the Caribbean country after the massive 2010 earthquake. “Eliminating cholera from Haiti, and living up to our moral responsibility to those who have been most directly affected, will require the full commitment of the international community,” Ban said, launching his report on the matter, entitled ‘A New approach to cholera in Haiti’.

“The United Nations should seize this opportunity to address a tragedy that also has damaged our reputation and global mission. That criticism will persist unless we do what is right for those affected. In short, UN action requires Member State action,” he said. India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin said India appreciated the concern and sensitivity shown by the United Nations and Secretary General in addressing the issue of persistence of Cholera in Haiti.

Describing the outbreak of cholera in Haiti as a “regrettable episode”, Akbaruddin said the emphasis of the new approach to not only control the outbreak and assist victims but also to address issues of concern such as access to clean water and improved healthcare system is “commendable”.

While the number of those affected remains high, and recent outbreaks  partly heightened by the impact of Hurricane Matthew  show the continued vulnerability of the population to the disease, UN officials have said the challenge is not insurmountable. Ban also presented a two-pronged program to help the families of the cholera victims and support the fight against the disease. The UN hopes the new proposal will raise USD 400 million over two years.