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Security Council Meeting and Resolution on Ebola Crisis

Tomorrow afternoon (18 September) the Security Council will hold an open debate on the Ebola crisis in West Africa with briefings from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; David Nabarro, the Senior UN System Coordinator for Ebola; Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) and a Medecins Sans Frontiéres healthcare worker, who will address the Council via video-teleconference from Liberia. The Council is expected to adopt a resolution during the debate. The US, whoproposed the meeting, circulated a first draft late Monday night (15 September), and following one round of negotiations yesterday and additional bilateral negotiations between the US and Russia, the draft was put under silence this afternoon.

US ambassador Samantha Power suggested having an emergency meeting on the Ebola crisis last week during consultations on the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). It seems that the US’s main aim in having the meeting is to raise the profile of the crisis. A Council meeting on a public health crisis is rare, though since 2000 there have been six public sessions related to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the subject of pandemics was discussed in a debate on 23 November 2011 that covered a range of issues considered as “new challenges to international peace and security”. This will be the third ever Council resolution on a health crisis, with previous resolutions adopted on HIV/AIDS in 2000 and 2011 (S/RES/1308; S/RES/1983).

It appears that negotiations on the substance of the draft resolution were generally smooth. One issue that arose was over language on how to characterise the impact of the Ebola crisis on international peace and security. While the draft resolution is not under Chapter VII, it recognises that the current outbreak could lead to increased civil unrest and a deterioration of the political and security situations in the most affected countries “unless contained.” The draft also determines that the “unprecedented extent” of the epidemic threatens international peace and security. It appears that Russia raised concerns over characterising the situation as a threat to international peace and security. The draft put under silence reflects a change that is a result of these concerns. While the language on the Ebola outbreak constituting a threat to international peace and security, the “unprecedented extent” of the outbreak was limited to being “in Africa”.

The draft resolution calls upon member states and regional organisations to take action and makes several requests of the Secretary-General. It calls on UN member states to provide urgent assistance, such as deployable medical capacities, including field hospitals, medical expertise, as well as airlift and aeromedical capacities. Regional organisations such as the AU, ECOWAS and the EU are urged to “mobilize immediately”, while member states, including those within the region, are called on to lift travel and border restrictions, and airlines and shipping companies are called on to maintain trade and transport links with the affected countries. This language appears to have been prompted by a 29 August letter (S/2014/669) from the presidents of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to the Secretary-General highlighting the negative effects of their countries’ increasing isolation due to governments imposing travel restrictions and companies suspending flight and shipping links which they described as creating “virtual economic sanctions and trade embargos” on their countries. Their letter requested urgent international intervention and a UN resolution on a comprehensive response. UN and other humanitarian actors have also indicated that the current difficulties in travelling and transporting supplies into the affected countries have hindered their ability to carry out their work.

The Ebola outbreak was first confirmed in Guinea on 22 March and soon spread to neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone. The latest Ebola figures, according to the WHO as of 16 September, are 4,985 reported cases and 2,461 deaths, primarily in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The epidemic has been spreading exponentially, with half of the cases having been recorded over the past three weeks. Liberia has been the worst hit, with over 1,200 deaths.

Although Medecins Sans Frontieres had already declared on 20 June that the epidemic was “totally out of control” and would likely be the worst Ebola outbreak on record, it was not until August that the international community started intensifying efforts to deal with the epidemic. The WHO declared the situation a public health emergency on 8 August. On 12 August, the Secretary-General appointed David Nabarro as the Senior UN System Coordinator for Ebola. The WHO announced an Ebola Response Roadmap on 28 August, projecting 20,000 cases before bringing the epidemic under control in 6 to 9 months at a cost of $490 million over the first six months. On 16 September, the WHO revised its forecasts estimating the costs of the epidemic at $1 billion and acknowledging 20,000 cases is probably too low. (Chan is expected to outline an international plan for dealing with the crisis during the debate.)

The Council’s concern over the epidemic has grown in recent weeks, especially in the context of Liberia as it began discussing the mandate renewal of UNMIL and some of the recent developments in the country. The risk of the Ebola outbreak destabilising the peace and security of Liberia became clear in mid-August. Protestors took over an Ebola isolation center on 16 August allowing 17 patients to escape. This led to the government quarantining the slum West Point, which is home to approximately 70,000 people. This in turn resulted in clashes four days later between West Point residents and Liberian security personnel in which tear gas and live ammunition were used, resulting in the death of a boy and injuries to three additional civilians. As a result of the impact of the Ebola outbreak on the stability of the country, on 28 August, the Secretary-General sent the Council a letter (S/2014/644) proposing a three month technical rollover of UNMIL (due to expire on 31 September), which reversed his recommendations less than two weeks earlier contained in his latest report on Liberia that the mission continue as scheduled with its drawdown (S/2014/598).

Tomorrow’s open debate on the larger impact of Ebola on West Africa is one of several meetings and discussions in the Council (and in the broader UN system) related to Ebola in recent weeks. There was a Council meeting with troop and police contributing countries on 4 September focused exclusively on Ebola in Liberia, and dealing with the measures being taken to protect UN personnel and the logistical support being provided to support Ebola response efforts. During the 9 September UNMIL briefing and consultations, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Liberia Karen Landgren described the epidemic as “the gravest threat to the country since the war” (S/PV.7260).

The current epidemic has so far been mentioned by the Council in two documents: In a 9 July Council press statement (SC/11466) that covered a range of issues following the Council’s briefing and consultations on the UN Office in West Africa (S/PV.7213), members noted their “deep concern” over the Ebola outbreak in the region, and highlighted the need for prompt international assistance.

On 15 September, the Council adopted resolution 2176 extending UNMIL until 31 December with the same mandate, while reiterating deep concern over the epidemic. An open briefing for member states was held on 2 September on the UN system’s efforts to combat Ebola. It was chaired by Deputy-Secretary General Jan Eliasson, with briefings by Chan, Nabarro and Joanne Liu of Medecins Sans Frontieres, among others. The Peacebuilding Commission country-specific configurations for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone organised a joint meeting on 18 August, issuing a statement expressing their commitment to raise resources for the response. A meeting of the PBC was also held on 8 September in which the Commission released a statement welcoming the Secretary-General’s planned high-level event on Ebola, scheduled for 25 September on the margins of the general debate at the General Assembly, and calling for urgent international assistance.

In recent days, the UN has taken additional steps to address the Ebola crisis. On 5 September, the Secretary-General activated the UN Crisis Response Mechanism for a system-wide crisis under the UN Operations Crisis Centre (UNOCC). Anthony Banbury of the Department of Field Support was appointed on 8 September as the Deputy Ebola Coordinator and Operations Crisis Manager to oversee the UNOCC. There are signs that the UN’s recent efforts are part of a stepped up global response to the Ebola crisis. Following a request from Liberia, the US has announced it will construct 17 Ebola treatment centers in the region that would provide 1,700 beds under the leadership of the Defense Department, and establish a command center in Monrovia involving 3,000 US military personnel. Additionally, it will recruit medical personnel to staff the centers and establish a site in the region to train up to 500 health care workers per week. On 17 August, the UK announced that, in close coordination with the UN, it will increase its support to fighting Ebola in West Africa, with the provision of a total of 700 treatment beds to Sierra Leone at the core of the package.

The AU Peace and Security Council on 19 August authorised its first ever humanitarian mission to the region. The first 30 volunteers are currently being trained in Addis Ababa, with the mission receiving financial support through the EU and USAID. On 12 September, Cuba announced that it would send a mission of 165 doctors and nurses to Sierra Leone, reinforcing Cuban personnel already in Guinea and Sierra Leone. The World Bank on 16 September announced a $105 million grant for the affected countries. There may be more commitments made at tomorrow’s debate as the US, as president of the Council, in inviting members to participate in the debate, called on them to use the meeting to announce specific in-kind or financial commitments.


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