The leaders of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea asked for EU support Tuesday (3 March) to set up a homegrown Marshall Plan to fight Ebola.
During a high level conference organised by the European Commission in Brussels, the three leaders requested massive international assistance but insisted on retaining the ownership of the recovery effort.
Thanks to global action, the Ebola epidemic now appears to be contained and the next target is to bring the number of new Ebola infections down to zero.
The Ebola: from emergency to recovery conference was not intended to be a donour conference, but rather to focus on the next steps to reach this target and prevent new cases.
The main message was delivered by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, one of the most respected leaders in the developing world, who has been President of Liberia since 2006.
Speaking on behalf of her colleagues from Guinea and Sierra Leone, she said that the three leaders had come to Brussels “in a show of unity”. Sirleaf thanked the EU and the other international players who had helped turn the tide against the deadly disease.
But she stressed that Ebola had largely destabilised the three countries, forcing the closure of borders, schools, farms, trade and travel routes. Markets had ceased activities, and contractors and investors have fled the region, she explained. As a result of falling revenue, fiscal balances weakened, Sirleaf said, while expenditure increased, largely on health operations. GDP projected for 2014 across the region dropped, and may deteriorate even further in 2015, the Liberian leader warned.
As Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea take the first steps to recovery, Sirleaf said that the three countries also needed their international partners to remain committed and help them stabilise their economies. And as these countries’ markets are relatively small, the best solution was a regional approach.
But she stressed that any regional plan should be “home-grown”.
“There is no doubt that this would require substantial resources – even a ‘Marshall Plan’, as suggested by World Bank President [Dr. Jim Yong Kim]. We believe that this can be achieved by allocation of the additional resources committed by the European Commission,” Sirleaf said.
“Our task would be to formulate a regional plan, a roadmap and a coordinating structure. We propose to conclude this in the next month,” she added.
“If we are to achieve our economic goals, more will be required. Our investing partners must give back more. In fair taxes, fair pricing and fair high level job opportunities,” President Sirleaf further argued, adding that in return, the three countries would do their part, by creating a better business environment and by better controlling corruption.
The Liberian leader appealed for direct budget support, debt cancelation in favour of the affected countries and “full disclosure” of all resources committed for the fight against Ebola.
The European Commission agreed to add the “promotion of regional cooperation” to its press release from the conference, but also insisted that the affected countries should improve their governance and accountability.
European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said that the EU had the responsibility to be effective in its development assistance, to promote good governance and invigorate regional cooperation.
Asked to name the three things the conference was able to achieve, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Commissioner Christos Stylianides, who is also the EU’s Ebola coordinator, said the most important was to maintain international support until there are no more Ebola cases. The second iws to promote regional cooperation in tackling the disease, which knows no borders. The third is assisting the recovery of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, especially in health, education, water and sanitation.