If we had to go by the decreasing number of searches for “Ebola” shown by Google Trends in Spain, anyone would think the crisis has come to an end. After all, the only thing leftover of the panic that spread like wildfire across our country for several months is the judicial process which, now in its death throes, has ended up being like most other issues, a source of partisan bickering.
The perspective in West Africa is different. According to the most recent figures, which we have updated on ISGlobal’s special online The three crises of Ebola
, this disease continues to be a nightmare for an entire region on this planet. In Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, there are over 20,000 infected people and a record number of 8,220 deaths. The evolution of the epidemic has not met the most pessimistic predictions, transmission is slow and could soon enter the control phase, but humanitarian organisations are warning anyone who will listen that the crisis is by no means over. As David Nabarro, the coordinator of the international response, reminds us
: “the disease is being transmitted in three countries which together have a land size larger than the United Kingdom. They have limited infrastructure, porous borders and a series of deeply rooted cultural traditions that help the spread of the virus”.
These are the three priorities defined by the UN:
- To finally control the epidemic
- To lay the groundwork for the recovery phase
- To guarantee that the weaknesses that allowed for the expansion of the outbreak have been resolved
All this must happen at a time when the scientific efforts to develop new treatments have not borne fruit yet and before the international community, including Spain, finds other issues to worry about.
The bulk of the resources is dangerously polarized between a handful of donor countries that are making most of the effortThe recovery period will be long and expensive. As the dust settles after the emergency, the region’s health and socioeconomic scenario looks heartbreaking. In the three most affected countries, Ebola has hit the fragile structures hard, at a time when the social and economic indicators had started to recover with huge effort and follwing decades of violent conflict. The crisis has not only multiplied the need for public expenditure in sensitive areas like health and food security, but the sources of growth and income generation these countries relied on have also tumbled: restrictions in movements of workers and exports, fall in foreign investment and the total disappearance of tourism. As the World Bank highlights in its reference to the precedent of SARS in Asia, the worst part of this economic hurricane is that it does not depend on the evolution of the disease as much as it does on the feeling of fear that settles among its neighbours.
Will the region still be able to count on the support from donors? Although the various countries have already covered two thirds of the 1,500 million dollars requested by the UN in its Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak Response Plan, there is a risk that the remaining third – critical in this phase of the crisis - will be much harder to obtain. The bulk of the resources is dangerously polarized between a handful of donor countries that are making most of the effort (U.S.A in particular, providing 36% of all funds) and a myriad of private organisations whose commitment depends on the sensitivity of public opinion. In the middle there are many governments who in a more or less respectable way have met their commitments, but whose contributions are so small that they alone could not sustain the recovery phase (see the case of Spain in the chart below).
The virulence of the Ebola crisis has reminded the international community of the fact that development is an issue of mutual interest as much as it is an ethical obligation. What was important at the time of the spread of the virus continues to be just as important now when we are fighting to lay the groundwork for the recovery phase. To lift the foot off the accelerator now would be like going back to square one.
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