Ebola-hit countries ask for ‘ownership’ of recovery effort

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Christos Stylianides. [Georgi Gotev]

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.

‘Marshall plan’

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.

Debbie Hillier, Oxfam’s policy lead on Ebola, said:

“Today’s conference was a useful first step on the long road to recovery but much more needs to be done.

"Donors have pledged to make children in Liberian schools safer and healthier post-Ebola with clean water and proper sanitation – they should now step up in the same way to address other areas of acute need.

"That means ongoing support to help the affected countries get to zero cases and reboot their shattered economies. Communities in Liberia and Sierra Leone who have endured Ebola's six-month reign of horror have told us they are desperate to feed their families and start to earn a living again.

“Before next month’s World Bank spring meetings, leaders must now turn this dialogue into solid commitments to get families back on their feet through an immediate cash injection, investment in jobs and essential services like health, water and sanitation, in particular in Liberia where cases are very low.”

Adam Garley of WaterAid told EURACTIV that the non-profit organisation supports the call made by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and international agency Oxfam today for donors to support the government’s $60 million appeal to upgrade Liberian schools with water and sanitation facilities.

Garley said that WaterAid was working in Liberia since 2009 and that in order to get children back in the classrooms, parents needed to be sure that schools are safe.

“There’s a huge lack of access to wash in schools in Liberia. Just over half of the schools in Liberia don’t have access to safe water and around half don’t have access to proper, safe toilets, or don’t have access to hand wash facilities”, he said, adding that sanitation was precisely what was needed to prevent a spread of Ebola in the future.

There are about 5.200 schools in Liberia and 4.000 have been surveyed for wash facilities. Based on this, the amount neede was identified to be of $60 million, he explained. 

World Vision urged global leaders attending the European Union High-level Conference on Ebola in Brussels tomorrow to offer increased support for children in affected West African countries. More than 8,000 children have been orphaned in Sierra Leone alone.

The Christian humanitarian organisation which has conducted relief and development programmes in Sierra Leone for almost 20 years is supporting temporary community care centres for orphaned children, who are being placed with extended families.

World Vision called on donors, the Government of Sierra Leone and its partners to continue the immediate response to contain Ebola until there are zero cases, while ensuring a smooth transition to a sufficiently funded, well-coordinated recovery phase that prioritizes children’s needs.

Up to 4.5 million people have been threatened by Ebola since the epidemic broke out last year in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

9,000 have died so far in the three countries, but the number of new cases is now sharply decreasing.

The European Union has mobilised substantial political, financial and scientific resources to contain, control, treat and ultimately defeat the Ebola virus.

The EU's total financial contribution to fight the epidemic is over €1.2billion. This includes funding from member states and the European Commission.

The Commission has provided over €414 million to fight the disease, covering emergency measures, urgent Ebola research, as well as longer-term support.

The recent announcement of the first results ever to show that a treatment (favipiravir) might be effective against early Ebola disease is a result of this financial support.

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