3 Reasons the US military should not be fighting Ebola

President Obama is sending thousands of U.S. troops to West Africa to fight the deadly Ebola virus. Their mission will be to construct treatment centers and provide medical training to health-care workers in the local communities.

Here are 3 reasons why militarizing humanitarian aid is a very bad idea, according to a Reason.TV piece:

1. Militarized Aid Erodes Humanitarian Principles – Humanitarian aid must be perceived as neutral and not driven by political or military objectives. Using the military in a humanitarian crisis works against that and potentially instigates further unrest.

2. Militarized Aid is Ineffective in the Long Term – Militarized aid is often backed by huge budgets that are supposed to be spent quickly. The pressure to spend massive amounts is often coupled with pressure to achieve short-term political goals. That in turn translates into an ineffective use of funds.

3. Militarized Aid Diminishes the Supply of Civil Aid – By constantly relying on the military for humanitarian efforts, we’re stifling efforts to grow civilian-led organizations that can handle the complicated logistics necessary to address large-scale humanitarian crises.

US humanitarian aid going to ISIS

While U.S. warplanes strike at the militants of the so-called Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq, truckloads of U.S. and Western aid has been assisting them to build their terror-inspiring “Caliphate.” The aid—mainly food and medical equipment—is meant for Syrians displaced from their hometowns, and for hungry civilians. It is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, European donors, and the United Nations.

Aid convoys have to pay off ISIS emirs (leaders) for the convoys to enter the eastern Syrian extremist strongholds. “The convoys have to be approved by ISIS and you have to pay them: the bribes are disguised and itemized as transportation costs,” says an aid coordinator who spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition he not be identified in this article. The kickbacks are either paid by foreign or local non-governmental organizations tasked with distributing the aid, or by the Turkish or Syrian transportation companies contracted to deliver it. And there are fears the aid itself isn’t carefully monitored enough, with some sold off on the black market or used by ISIS to win hearts and minds by feeding its fighters and its subjects.

Aid coordinators with NGOs partnering USAID and other Western government agencies, including Britain’s Department for International Development, say ISIS insist that the NGOs, foreign and local, employ people ISIS approves on their staffs inside Syria. “There is always at least one ISIS person on the payroll; they force people on us,” says an aid coordinator. “And when a convoy is being prepared, the negotiations go through them about whether the convoy can proceed. They contact their emirs and a price is worked out. We don’t have to wrangle with individual ISIS field commanders once approval is given to get the convoy in, as the militants are highly hierarchical.” He adds: “None of the fighters will dare touch it, if an emir has given permission.”

Many aid workers are uncomfortable with what’s happening. And the State Department official said he, too, was conflicted about the programs. “Is this helping the militants by allowing them to divert money they would have to spend on food? If aid wasn’t going in, would they let people starve? And is it right for us to withhold assistance and punish civilians? … Are we helping indirectly the militants to build their Caliphate? I wrestle with this.”

[Daily Beast]

Oxfam calls for military intervention for West African Ebola crisis

Ebola is poised to become the “definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation”, Oxfam has warned, with more troops, funding and medical aid urgently needed to tackle the outbreak.

In an “extremely rare” move, the charity is calling for military intervention to provide logistical support across West Africa. It says the world has less than two months to counter the spread of the deadly virus, so troops are now “desperately needed” to build treatment centers, provide flights and offer engineering and logistical support.

While Britain was leading the way in Europe’s response to the epidemic, it said countries which have failed to commit troops were “in danger of costing lives”. Oxfam highlighted Italy, Australia and Spain as examples of countries who have committed no troops, despite Spain having a specialist medical expertise unit in its military.

Mark Goldring, Oxfam’s chief executive, warned the world “is in the eye of a storm” as the latest outbreak progresses. “We cannot allow Ebola to immobilize us in fear, but instead we must move toward a common mission to stop it from getting worse,” he cautioned.

An Oxfam spokeswoman added: “The Ebola crisis could become the definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation. The world was unprepared to deal with it. It is extremely rare for Oxfam to call for military intervention to provide logistical support in a humanitarian emergency. “However, the military’s logistical expertise and capacity to respond quickly in great numbers is vital.”

[The Independent]

The 40-year history of Ebola

The humanitarian crisis wrought by the deadly Ebola virus raging through West Africa will not be over until a vaccine is developed, the scientist who discovered the virus has warned. The virus continues its unprecedented pace, invading and destroying vast swathes of West African countries and it will continue to do so if drastic action is not taken on the front line.

It is in West Africa that the fight against Ebola must be waged, if the region is to survive. The international response is finally coming up to speed with the US and UK leading the way, with the ‘abysmal reaction by the rest of Europe’, prompting calls that more can be done.

Professor Peter Piot, part of the team who identified the Ebola virus in north western Zaire in 1976, warned the crisis has spiraled out of control. In theory Ebola is very easy to control, but it has got completely out of hand,’ he said, speaking at a seminar at Oxford University. ‘This is no longer an epidemic, it is a humanitarian crisis. … The good news is I think this is the last Ebola outbreak where we only have isolation and quarantine to treat. … Hopefully we will have a drugs and vaccines to offer in Africa.’

‘Most of these outbreaks have been in central Africa. There was one in Ivory Coast but that was a different strain from 1976, ‘ he said. ‘They have mostly been contained to the Congo, Uganda and South Sudan. … That is why there wasn’t much interest in this outbreak at the start, because it wasn’t really a big issue. All that changed this year.’

The story of the biggest Ebola outbreak in history began in Guinea in December last year. But it was three months before the authorities diagnosed Ebola and reported the situation to the World Health Organisation (WHO). By March 25, relatively few cases had been reported, and they were all confined to Guinea. Five months later, on August 8, the WHO declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.

Drawing on his experience of 25 previous outbreaks in the last 37 years, Professor Piot said, ‘It took about 1,000 Africans dying and two Americans being repatriated. … That’s basically the equation in the value of life and what triggers an international response.’

[Daily Mail] 

UN warns only 60 days to beat Ebola

The UN says the Ebola outbreak must be controlled within 60 days or else the world faces an “unprecedented” situation for which there is no plan. The United Nations made the stark warning as it warned that the disease “is running faster than us and it is winning the race”.

“The WHO advises within 60 days we must ensure 70% of infected people are in a care facility and 70% of burials are done without causing further infection,” said Anthony Banbury, the UN’s deputy Ebola coordinator.

But Mr Banbury told the UN Security Council the 70% target was becoming harder to meet as new infections stack up. He urged: “We either stop Ebola now or we face an entirely unprecedented situation for which we do not have a plan.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) earlier said there could be 10,000 new cases of Ebola per week within two months. “It could be higher, it could be lower, but somewhere in that ball park.”

Some 95% of the cases are occurring in the same limited number of districts of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea which were affected a month ago, he said.

[Sky News]

USAID announces more assistance grants in West African fight against Ebola

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah announced nearly $142 million in humanitarian projects and grants to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The announcement brings total U.S. humanitarian assistance for the Ebola crisis to more than $258 million.

“Stopping Ebola in West Africa will require a significant international effort, and the United States urges our global partners to provide additional assistance to help bring the outbreak under control,” said Shah. “We are helping affected countries gain positive and strong momentum by the day, but much more must be done to win this fight.”

The new projects and grants will support:

  • Construction and support of additional Ebola treatment units in partnership with the affected countries and international organizations;
  • Training and support for health care workers and safe burial teams;
  • The Government of Liberia’s strategy to establish and staff community care centers, which, in tandem with Ebola treatment units, will provide another level of Ebola isolation and care to communities while helping to break the chain of transmission; and
  • Critical logistics support for international partners working in West Africa.

[USAID]

African flight logistics for Ebola aid workers

More than 4,000 people have died from Ebola as of Oct. 8, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and international air travel has already carried at least one infected traveler outside of West Africa.

The three West African nations hit hardest by the Ebola pandemic have seen a dramatic reduction in airline service. But there’s one group of travelers—medical aid workers—who urgently want to reach the affected countries to help patients and disrupt transmission of the virus.

“It is difficult to get people in and out,” says Ian Rodgers, director of operational support and preparedness for Save the Children in Washington, D.C. His NGO is currently operating at 60 percent of full staff in the Ebola-hit region.

Given the collision of airline cutbacks and a surge of relief workers and cargo to the region, several NGOs are discussing the need for a potential charter service to help bypass the shortage of commercial options. That’s usually how aid workers get to and from areas wracked by war or earthquakes. As more health workers in Africa potentially contract the disease, Rodgers believes organizations will be keen to establish a reliable way to evacuate those workers.

The charter route has been used in recent weeks to transport medical supplies and other equipment to Liberia and Sierra Leone, funded by a $3 million donation from billionaire Paul Allen. Allen, the Microsoft co-founder, has pledged $25 million through his foundation to tackle the crisis, as has fellow tech billionaire Mark Zuckerberg. Allen is willing to boost his initial $3 million grant if a passenger charter becomes necessary.

[Bloomberg]

Growing humanitarian crisis in Somalia

For decades, Somalia has been riven by factional fighting and the recent spread of religious fanaticism in the guise of Al-Shabaab has only added to the beleaguered country’s woes.

In 2012, new Somali national institutions emerged as the country ended a transitional phase toward setting up a permanent, democratically-elected Government.

In 2013 the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia was established by the UN Security Council. It is mandated to support the Federal Government of Somalia with its peace and state building agenda and to strengthen Somalia’s security sector, promote respect for human rights and women’s empowerment and assist in the coordination of international assistance.

“The humanitarian operation in Somalia requires urgent scale-up,” the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Philippe Lazzarini,said in a press statement. “We are in a race against time to save lives in areas stricken by drought and conflict.”

The humanitarian coordinator noted that aid workers could reach affected areas despite the numerous challenges and persisting insecurity but urged the international community to drastically ramp up its financial assistance for the country.

“Despite competing crises in the world today, not responding to the humanitarian situation in Somalia is not an option,” Mr. Lazzarini continued. “Critical funding is needed today to expand operations. Funding pipelines for food security, nutrition, health, water, sanitation and hygiene services must be increased without delay.”

[UN News Centre]

Disturbing trend of attacks on humanitarian workers

From a report by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming :

UNHCR (the UN refugee agency) is alarmed at the recent outbreak of violence in parts of the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui, targeting civilians, humanitarian workers and United Nations peacekeepers. The latest surge in attacks has badly hampered humanitarian activities.

The recent episode of unrest in Bangui represents a disturbing trend of attacks on humanitarian workers who are trying to access and assist displaced populations in Bangui and its suburbs.

There are some 410,000 internally displaced persons in the Central African Republic including over 60,000 in 34 sites in Bangui.

Around 420,000 CAR refugees have fled to the neighboring countries.

Malala warns Obama: ‘Drone attacks are fueling terrorism’

The White House invited sixteen-year-old Pakistani women’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai to meet the President, First Lady, and their daughter Malia on Friday. The youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize contender made the most of the photo opportunity, warning Obama that U.S. drone strikes were fueling terrorist attacks.

“I thanked President Obama for the United States’ work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees,” she said in the statement. “I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.”

Malala, who was shot in the head by Taliban agents a year ago for speaking out against the ban on girls’ education, also gave an eloquent defense of nonviolent resistance and the power of peaceful dialogue on the Daily Show last week.

[Think Progress]