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EBOLA: This catastrophe must never happen again

Note to Editor: Following the Ebola virus outbreak, the United Nations set up its first-ever public health mission – the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) to deal with the pandemic. In this interview with Newton Kanhema for Africa Renewal, David Nabarro,the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Ebola, discusses the UN’s efforts to bring the virus under control.

New York, November 18, 2014 (SSNA) -- Africa Renewal: Can you tell us the status of the UN response to the Ebola outbreak?

David Nabarro: The outbreak is a completely unprecedented situation. We have had outbreaks of Ebola over the last 40 years but we’ve never had one on this scale. That's why the global community decided to mount an extraordinary response. The UN is supporting the efforts of governments, non-governmental partners and other international donors. We are bringing together all the different parts of the UN under UNMEER. We anticipate that 70% of people infected with Ebola will be under treatment by the end of November and that at least 70% of all burials will be safe and dignified.

We also anticipate that the disease spread would begin to diminish in the speed it was accelerating and that the outbreak curve would start bending downwards by the beginning of January 2015. There is still a long way to go in terms of people coming under treatment, but the burials are safer and more dignified and in some parts of the region the outbreak curve is beginning to bend. But I want to stress that we are still a long way from the outbreak being under control and ending.

We have seen more than 5,000 fatalities in the three most-affected countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Is the situation stabilizing?

Well, the situation is varied across the affected countries. In some counties in Liberia, there are reports that the acceleration rate is slowing down. In other areas, particularly some of the urban communities and particularly in parts of Sierra Leone, it’s still expanding at a rapid rate. We don’t have the full data. It is uneven but it’s what we expected: as the response intensifies we begin to see improvements in some areas.

How far do you think we are from seeing the end of this pandemic?

I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s quite a long way away. I’m not sure what lies between now and the end of the tunnel. The difficulty with an outbreak like this is that it is unpredictable and can take a sudden turn for the worse at any time. There can be new chains of transmission and we might find that fatalities have shot up more than two or three weeks ago. I’m reticent about making predictions, either how long it’s going to take or how bad it will be before we get it under control. If I put a date on it, then I will almost certainly end up being wrong. 

Is the current virus strain in West Africa more virulent than the strain we have seen in Central Africa?

There are no differences in the spread pattern. What really matters here is that everybody should know that if people come under treatment early, then there’s a good chance that they’re going to survive.

About $1 billion is needed to control the spread of the disease. How far have we gone towards that target?

In September 2014 the UN appealed for nearly $1 billion. As of now, we have received nearly $800 million. However, because the disease has spread further since the appeal, we have revised it upward to $1.5 billion so as to attend to the 70% of the cases under treatment and 70% safe burials up to March 2015. There may be a need for more resources after the end of March. 

There have been complaints that some countries are giving less than what is expected of them. How would you characterize the international response so far?

Well, in general, governments, the wider public, and businesses have been incredibly generous. What has happened is that sometimes they’ve gone back to national treasuries and asked them to re-examine the amounts they were putting up and to perhaps, come up with further contributions. One country has had four tranches of assistance. Several other countries have provided further bursts of assistance, hence I am not keen to criticise any country. We’ve also seen incredible generosity from foundations. For example, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation put in $100 million, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave $50 million, and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation gave $20 million. Individual members of the public are putting money into charity appeals. Business people from all over the world have also been generous.

What is your assessment of contributions by African countries?

I’ve talked a lot with African leaders, with the African Union, ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States], the East African Community, and also with African business people and civil society. Africans are extremely concerned about this outbreak and are doing their share. 

We also hear some pledges have not been met. Is this true?

Most of the countries that pledged have actually remitted or committed their funds extremely quickly. I know of no country or organization that pledged and has not made the funds available. If there are any issues, they may be the normal administrative bottlenecks that sometimes occur with this kind of assistance.

In that case, the $800 million pledged has been delivered?

Not all the money is in bank accounts, but there’s a term called “commitment,” which has legal value because it means that the money will come, and we can afford, therefore, to spend against that money. It is only a pledge that must be received before being spent.  The $800 million reflects commitments. It’s been a very extraordinary response.

What is the UN doing to avoid delays, if there are any, in terms of the money coming in?

What I have been doing, for example, on the trust fund that the Secretary-General has set up and I am responsible for, is to establish a system so that we have a seven-day cycle. When the money comes in, we get proposals of how that money will be spent within those seven days.

Do you think this outbreak could have been avoided?

My role is to focus on where we are now. I’m sure that at some point there will be a need to do a historical analysis – what we call in medicine a “post-mortem.” That is not for me to do; it is not my area of expertise

When SARS hit Asia, you were playing the same role as now. Can you tell us what is different this time round?

This outbreak is in a part of the world where health systems are not the strongest. It’s also a virus with high death rates. It requires very close contact tracing. We have seen that countries that are able to act fast can get it under control, especially when they are prepared: Nigeria and Senegal are examples, Mali is also reacting quickly. We’ve also seen that in certain counties and districts in the affected countries where the response has been robust and intense, the virus’ acceleration has been reduced. So you need a high degree of organization and discipline. This means preparedness. 

Going forward, what have we learnt? 

Three words: preparedness, vigilance and solidarity. Being ready, being alert and working together, because diseases don’t respect borders. We must remember what this disease has done and put up defences so that this kind of suffering and misery doesn’t happen again.

Africa Renewal

‘Sudan and SPLM-N rebels about to conclude peace deal': Mbeki

Darfur News Update by Radio Dabanga (12 - 18 November)

November 18, 2014 (SSNA) -- The head of the African Union panel that brokers the peace negotiations between the Sudanese government and the rebel SPLM-N, disclosed on Monday that the parties are close to concluding an agreement on the conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. He further revealed that these peace negotiations will be “synchronised” with negotiations on the Darfur region with the armed rebel movements. 

The negotiations with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North are adjourned for 'a few days’ because the delegations need to consult on some additional documents, Thabo Mbeki, chairman of the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) said in the capital of Ethiopia. “We adjourn with really a lot of confidence that we are not too far from concluding an agreement.” The parallel meeting on the Darfur region, between the Sudanese government and Darfur’s rebel movements, will resume on 23 November. “There is one process, but two tracks,” Mbeki said, explaining that “the contents of the underlying documents [for South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and for Darfur] will be shared, to prove that there is a comprehensive peace agreement”. Peace negotiations between the government and the SPLM-N resumed on 12 November, after a  previous round in April stalled. Both sides stuck to their divergent positions on the cessation of hostilities and security arrangements.

UN agencies do not have access to areas held by the SPLM-N. According to the regional coordination unit SKBNCU, however, there are an estimated 650,000 people who are displaced by fighting between the government and the rebels in the SPLM-N areas of South Kordofan. Another 65,000 are displaced in Blue Nile’s rebel-held areas, as of October this year.

Sudan again blocks Unamid's mass rape investigation

The United Nations’ Secretary-General urged the Sudanese government on Monday to grant the UN-AU peacekeeping mission in Darfur “unfettered access” to Tabit, North Darfur, to investigate the serious allegations of a mass rape by Sudanese soldiers on 31 October. On Sunday, Khartoum announced it does not permit the Unamid to visit Tabit a second time. The Foreign Ministry said the claims of a mass rape have raised anger amongst the villagers. “They are very hostile against Unamid, which stained the reputations and chastity of the women in the area”. The government has tasked the special prosecutor of Darfur crimes to investigate the reports too. During the past week, the European Union, the United States, Norway, Sudanese opposition parties and women activist groups have called for unrestricted access for Unamid to Tabit and its population. Unamid stated it did not find any evidence for the mass rape after its first and only visit to Tabit, 50 km south-west of El Fasher, on 9 November. The mission did not mention that its investigators were heavily accompanied by Sudanese military and police forces, who filmed the interviews. Aicha Elbasri, the former spokesman of Unamid, criticised the peacekeepers for allowing their presence during the interaction with villagers, in an interview with APA. “The [forensic] evidence has disappeared, the population was intimidated by soldiers, and the government was in full control of the place,” she stressed, two weeks after the rape happened. 

Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that the military arrested 26 men in Tabit last week, and that about 150 soldiers were transferred from the garrison to El Fasher in trucks last Wednesday. They said that military officers had asked which people in Tabit had spoken to Radio Dabanga, which reported about the mass rape on 2 November. Witnesses and victims described how Sudanese soldiers from a nearby garrison entered Tabit two days before, beat and dispersed all the men, and collectively raped "about 200 women and girls" for several hours.

More news from Radio Dabanga:

‘Heavy air raids’ in North Darfur

EL FASHER (18 Nov.) - The Sudanese Air Force has carried out intensive air raids on villages in North Darfur targeting civilians, utilities, water sources, livestock and farms. Speaking to Radio... FULL STORY

Displaced ‘arrested, whipped, tortured’ in South Darfur

KASS LOCALITY (18 Nov.) - Security authorities arrested eight displaced people in the area of Saboun El Fagur, east of Kass locality in South Darfur on Sunday. According to the women’s coordinator of the... FULL STORY

Firewood collectors raped, beaten in South Darfur
KALMA CAMP (18 Nov.) - Four women from Kalma camp in Bielel locality, South Darfur, were raped on Saturday, while other members of their group were beaten by militiamen. Saleh Issa, the Secretary-... FULL STORY

Reporter to face charges in West Kordofan
EN NAHUD (18 Nov.) - Journalist Aisha El Samani is to appear in court in En Nahud in West Kordofan next week to face charges related to entering and photographing military areas. El Samani, who works... FULL STORY

North Darfur's Tawila market closed since abductions

TAWILA (17 Nov.) - The local market in Tawila town, North Darfur, has been closed for almost a week as a result of the abduction of three men from inside the market. Militant members of the Abbala... FULL STORY

Two killings, abductions in Central Darfur spark protest

NIERTETI/TAWILA (16 Nov.) - Pro-government militiamen shot dead two people in Nierteti locality, Central Darfur, on Wednesday. The militiamen also abducted seven persons. A 45-year-old farmer in East Jebel... FULL STORY

Food relief for Darfuris displaced or affected by tribal conflict

ADILA/ABU KARINKA/UM DAFUG (16 Nov.) - Aid organisations managed to send food supplements to more than 2,000 children in East Darfur localities, after the supplies were stuck in the state's capital for the past three... FULL STORY

African Centre concerned about Sudanese stranded in Libya

BENGHAZI/TRIPOLI (15 Nov.) - The African Centre for Human Rights Studies expressed its deep concern over the sufferings of thousands of Sudanese stranded in the Libyan city Benghazi, because of the poor... FULL STORY

Health Ministry registers hemorrhagic fever in North Darfur

EL FASHER (14 Nov.) - The North Darfur Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO) have reported that 81 cases of hemorrhagic fever were registered between 28 August and 5 November in El... FULL STORY

Sudan launches demobilisation for ex-rebels in Darfur

EL FASHER (14 Nov.) - The Sudan Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission launched the demobilisation exercise for combatants belonging to different former rebel groups in Darfur on... FULL STORY

Inflation eases in Sudan: statistics office

KHARTOUM (14 Nov.) - Sudan's inflation rate declined for a third consecutive month in October, slowing to 28.2 percent from 39.2 percent in September, the Central Statistics Office said on Wednesday,... FULL STORY

Visit to Sudan’s detainees stopped by Presidency

KHARTOUM (13 Nov.) - A scheduled visit by members of Sudan’s National Dialogue Committee (NDC) to political detainees in Khartoum’s Kober Prison on Thursday was called-off by the Presidency at the... FULL STORY

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Peace Ambassador Condemns the Drinking water poison in Kule refugee camp, Ethiopia

By Mekonen Tefere

Addis Ababa, November 17, 2014 (SSNA) -- Peace Ambassador [Gatwech Koak Nyuon] Condemns the Drinking water poison in Kule refugee camp of Ethiopia and urges the UN and Ethiopian Government to Thoroughly Test the Water before Distribution and Investigate the Cause behind the Poison. 

Oxfam is tasked with water distribution in Kule Camp.

Gatwech deliberately talked to the refugees’ leadership through the mobile phone and confirmed that the incident had already taken place. More than 200 refugees are pronounced to be patients and admitted in MSF Hospital at Kule One (1).

Peace Ambassador discloses to the Media that refugees from ‘Zone-C’ become poison’s victims. He hoped that the Ethiopian Government and UN will work closely to implement the meticulous investigation to discover the cause of the poison and suggest the pre-testing for water as well as weekly water-tank cleansing by the concern Agency who deal with water. He said.

Gatwech strongly condemns the incident and term it as “lack of skill and specialization or motivational incident”.

Early this year in July, Gatwech launched his personal campaign to voluntary work as a voice for refugees by conducted a research in Refugee Camp and later named by Ethiopian Churches to be a Peace Ambassador. He launched a video Camp titled ‘Urgent call of prayer by Gatwech Koak Nyuon ’ two months ago and recently launched a pictorial campaign through his Official Fan Page ‘KICK WAR OUT OF SOUTH SUDAN’.

Ethiopia is nearly hosted more than 190,000 refugees mainly from Nuer tribe in Western Region of Gambella.

The author can be reached on: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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