Liberia is expected to be declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization (WHO) within the week if no more new cases of the disease are discovered before then, the top United Nations official in Liberia said Thursday of this week as she briefed the Security Council.
“After almost 14 months spent under the cloud of Ebola, this will be joyful news for the country,” said Karin Landgren, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Liberia. “Liberians and their Government, with support from the UN and international partners, have gotten firmly ahead of the epidemic. Now, all Liberians must remain vigilant.”
She pointed out that the UN Mission for Emergency Ebola Response (UNMEER) had closed its doors and transferred residual tasks to the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and to UN agencies but stressed that despite these positives, the outbreak had demonstrated the “underlying fragility” of Liberia.
“It is remarkable that eight months later, it is Liberia, among the three affected countries, that appear poised to be declared Ebola-free,” she said, making reference to Guinea and Sierra Leone. “Now is the time to address factors which contributed to Ebola’s spread, in particular, weak social service delivery, lack of accountability and overly centralized Government.”
She outlined the vulnerability of Liberia’s extractives-based, enclave economy to sharp drops in commodity prices and efforts to strengthen the economy, as well as steps to push through a security transition and measures to combat corruption.
Even as the post-Ebola recovery began, the Government was taking steps to assume fully its security responsibilities by 30 June 2016, as mandated by the Security Council, with the Liberian National Security Council having endorsed the ‘Government of Liberia Plan for UNMIL Transition’ in line with Council resolution 2190 (2014).
She referred to the Economic Stabilization and Recovery Plan and the Security Transition Plan and commended the country for meeting its initial benchmarks under the Security Transition Plan. She looked forward to progress on weapons-marking and on training of the armed forces to deal with the explosive remnants of war and also discussed recent tension stemming from complaints police brutality.
She also pointed to “long-standing societal divisions” that were as yet not healed after years of conflict and which threatened to deepen during the Ebola outbreak, noting the Secretary-General’s call for justice and addressing of past violations to secure a stable future, and stating that “national dialogue about social exclusion, and about the crimes of the past, remains muted at best.”
She also noted how Liberia’s stability depended on the sub-region’s stability and she called for strong cooperation within the area, particularly in the context of presidential elections anticipated in both Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire in October. Liberia, too, had a presidential election on the horizon, with and “increasingly intense” political environment as the 2017 vote was already “hotly debated.”
Also briefing the Council today, Chair of the UN Peace building Commission (PBC) Liberia Configuration, Olof Skoog, said that he got a first-hand impression on the ground of the Ebola outbreak and highlighted several points, also pointing to an urgent need to improve the socio-economic situation including by increasing access to education and jobs. Building trust in State institutions is critical.
This includes enhancing state presence and capacity to deliver basic services in the communities as part of the decentralization process. It is also essential to deal with the outstanding grievances from the civil war, including the implementing the national reconciliation roadmap. And regional cooperation is important for regional peace and security and deserves greater attention.
“The conditions were dire already before the crisis – with 64 per cent of the population living below the poverty line and only 34 per cent of children attending primary school,” he said, highlighting how the Ebola crisis increased the burden on households and destroyed the livelihoods of women and youth engaged in petty trade.
“The priority of the PBC is to safeguard that peace building gains can be sustained and strengthened. Close coordination with the Security Council will be important in the coming months to help ensure a responsible and seamless transition of UNMIL,” Mr. Skoog said.