Four Ways the African Development Bank Can Support a More Secure Africa

the recent increment in the capital base of the African Development Bank by $125 billion to $208 billion, should be commended as it could support improved health security across the continent.

An eight-month-old boy is examined by a doctor in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Ifeanyi Nsofor
ABUJA, Nov 7 2019 – Free movement of people and goods across Africa increases the risk of transmission of infectious diseases. The continent must realise that it is no longer a question of if disease outbreaks will occur, but instead, of when, and how fast.

The U.S. Centres for Disease Control says that within 36 hours, a disease outbreak can spread from a remote village to major urban cities of the world.

According to preventepidemics.org, a website which ranks countries’ levels of epidemic preparedness, no country in Africa is ready for the next epidemic. The African Union must act now to increase the capacity of member countries to detect, respond and manage disease outbreaks. Managing disease outbreaks is not cheap but it is cost-effective.

There cannot be global health security if there are still poor underserved communities where people do not have access to healthcare or are unable to pay for the healthcare they need

The current Ebola and measles outbreaks in DRC have killed 2185 and more than 3,000 respectively. In Nigeria, recent weekly epidemiological reports by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control show there are suspected cases of Lassa fever, cerebrospinal meningitis and yellow fever. In Zimbabwe, there is fear of another cholera outbreak. The 2018 cholera outbreak killed 26 people.

In this context, the recent increment in the capital base of the African Development Bank by $125 billion to $208 billion, should be commended as it could support improved health security across the continent.

It is also timely with the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement going into effect this year as AfCFTA requires a coordinated effort to put a stop to the frequent outbreaks of infectious diseases on the continent. Funds from the Bank can help.

Specifically, with its increased capital base, these are four ways the African Development Bank can support a more secure Africa.

 

First, provide grants to the Africa Centre for Disease Control and national public health institutes to increase laboratory diagnostic capacities. The first step to detecting any outbreak is knowing the cause as fast as possible, but laboratory equipment is expensive.

So, the Bank should give grants to national public health institutes to procure diagnostic equipment and upgrade laboratories. A way to achieve this is to partner with laboratory equipment manufacturers to reduce cost and work out favorable payment plans.

For instance, during the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak across West Africa, an Ebola screening machine, which reduced specimen turn-around times in Sierra Leone, was brought from Nigeria. However, it was donated by the European Union. Africa must begin to take leadership in such areas, without depending on international donors for support.

 

Second, work in partnership with the African Union to train the local health workforce and increase local African capacity to prevent, detect, respond to and manage disease outbreaks.

The African Union’s deployment of more than 800 African volunteers to support the 2014-2015 Ebola intervention in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone was instrumental in managing that outbreak and restoring health systems across the region.

I was a co-lead of the EpiAFRIC team which evaluated the African Union’s intervention. Traveling with my colleagues across the three countries and interviewing community members, volunteers, international partners and national ministries of health, it was apparent that it needed local expertise to stem the outbreak.

 

Third, improve infectious disease detection between borders. All African countries have ratified AfCFTA. When fully implemented, it would come with increased movement of Africans across borders.

The continent must be ready to prevent cross-border spread of infections. The ease with which Mr. Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian who brought Ebola from Liberia to Nigeria, threatened the health security of the continent, led to deaths of 8 health workers and Nigeria’s loss of $186 million in GDP.

To achieve this, the Bank should work with national public health institutes and ministries of health to ramp up epidemic preparedness at land, sea and air international borders.

 

Fourth, work with national governments and support their efforts for universal health coverage. Too many Africans pay out-of-pocket for healthcare.

This is not equitable and sustainable. According to the Director-General of the World Health Organization, universal health coverage and health security are two sides of the same coin.

Ultimately, there cannot be global health security if there are still poor underserved communities where people do not have access to healthcare or are unable to pay for the healthcare they need.

Needs are infinite and resources are limited. So, the African Development Bank should prioritize the health security of Africa, because a healthy continent would be more prosperous and then attractive to investors.

 

Urgent Need to Replace Competition with Cooperation in the Aral Sea Basin

The Aral Sea Basin, defined in red, straddles six countries in Central Asia. See detailed map in full at http://bit.ly/2BQPpRm. Credit: UNU-INWEH

By Stefanos Xenarios, Iskandar Abdullaev and Vladimir Smakhtin
NUR-SULTAN CITY, Kazakhstan, Nov 7 2019 – The water resources in Central Asia’s Aral Sea Basin support the lives and livelihoods of about 70 million people — a population greater than Thailand, France, or South Africa.

And unless well-funded and coordinated joint efforts are stepped up, with competition replaced by cooperation, ongoing over-withdrawals compounded by climate change will cause dangerous water shortages in this huge, highly complex watershed spanning six nations: Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

That’s the key message of a new book co-authored by 57 regional and international experts from 14 countries and the United Nations, who spent years examining a suite of challenges in the Aral Sea Basin.

The new book assembles the views of nearly all major regional and international experts on the great challenges faced in the Aral Sea Basin. They include three co-authors from the UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health, in Hamilton, Canada.

And almost half of the authors are based in Central Asia, creating a unique blend of regional and international voices and expertise on these critical issues.

The Basin’s two major rivers, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, discharge now only about 10% of what flowed into the Aral Sea until the 1960s, shrinking the sea by more than 80 percent — “one of the world’s most severe and emblematic environmental disasters.”

Freshwater is key to food, energy, environmental security and social stability among the six Aral Basin countries. And given the countries’ prospective economic and population growth, reliance on water resources will increase, compelling cooperation in sharing benefits and reducing costs.

Intensive, wasteful irrigated farming when the nations were part of the Soviet Union was the main cause of the Aral Sea drying up and irrigation continues to consume about 90 percent of the total water withdrawal in the Basin, with agriculture contributing from 10 to 45 percent of GDP, and 20 to 50 percent of rural employment.

Most irrigation, hydropower and other water-related infrastructural systems and facilities are in transition, a blend today of past and present. Unfortunately, the existing observational meteorological and hydrological networks in the Basin, which declined in the 1990s when the Soviet period ended, are insufficient to support informed water management, and regional water data sharing is suboptimal.

Degradation of land and water are among the major hindrances to sustainable development in the region, with land degradation alone estimated to cost about US$3 billion of losses in ecosystem services annually.

There has been uneven progress across the countries on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and particularly Goal 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), with contrasting progress also between urban and rural populations within each nation, most particularly Afghanistan.

The new book suggests a number of interventions and initiatives to end and reverse deterioration of the Aral Basin. For example, if existing large hydropower projects were managed in a collaborative manner, they can bring all countries multiple benefits, including improved reliability of supply and availability of water for agriculture, domestic use and electricity generation.

Monitoring of snow and glaciers in high altitude mountain areas, as well as permafrost, is essential for sound estimates of water availability and water-related hazards. Such systems need to be re-installed.

Also needed: institutions for decentralized management of natural resources, such as water user associations to promote cooperative, sustainable, intra-regional management between upstream and downstream countries and integrated rural development approaches.

Existing regional frameworks must either be reformed or replaced by new mechanisms of cooperation in order to successfully translate political will into highly effective, integrated regional water management.

Reforming the water sector, however, goes well beyond new policies and initiatives, updating the legislative framework, and building new institutions. A key challenge is to achieve continuous, strong, high-level political engagement throughout the Basin countries, the active participation of stakeholders, and technical and financial support.

The Aral Basin’s many water-related issues must be addressed jointly by all involved states within the concept that water, energy, and food issues represent a critical, interlinked nexus of needs.

Major geopolitical and economic development interests are placing increasing pressure on countries of the Basin to end resource competition and find a way to closer cooperation and effective pursuit of their shared interests.

UN Agency for Palestinians in Crisis as Chief Quits

A United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) school in Gaza. UNRWA director Pierre Krahenbuhl resigned amid a misconduct probe over whether he fast-tracked his girlfriend into a top aid job. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By James Reinl
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 7 2019 – The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees was in “crisis mode” on Wednesday after director Pierre Krahenbuhl resigned amid a misconduct probe over whether he fast-tracked his girlfriend into a top aid job, analysts said.

The decision to quit by Krahenbuhl, commissioner-general for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), came as the agency battled an ongoing cash crisis after top donor the United States cut all funding earlier this year.

“This is the biggest crisis UNRWA has ever had,” David Bedein, director of the Jerusalem-based Center for Near East Policy Research, a research group that has lobbied against the agency for decades, told IPS.

“It’s not a schoolteacher or social worker who has been caught with their hand in the cookie jar. We’re talking about the top guy, who’s meant to be an unimpeachable example of purity for the organisation.”

Senior aides for U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres have spoken with Bedein and other prominent pro-Israel campaigners about overhauling UNRWA to make it more transparent and less political, he told IPS.

“They want a school and administration system that would be characterised by transparency and accountability. While this has been prompted by a sex scandal, it’s going to lead to good things,” said Bedein.

“This is more than a case of simply removing a few people at the top. You have to take a messed up system and redo it.”

Answering a question from IPS, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said UNRWA was undergoing a “process of strengthening its work in the face of financial difficulties” focussed on “areas of oversight and accountability”.

But Dujarric declined to comment on closed-door meets between Guterres’ aides and Bedein and Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group, about overhauling UNRWA.

Krahenbuhl, a Swiss national, had resigned “effective immediately”, Dujarric told reporters on Wednesday. Guterres appointed Christian Saunders, a Briton, as the temporary officer in charge of UNRWA the same day.

Krahenbuhl had been battling allegations that he led an “inner circle” of UNRWA officials who had engaged “in sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other” wrongdoing, according to a confidential report by a U.N. watchdog that was leaked earlier this year.

According to the document, Krahenbuhl struck up a relationship with senior adviser Maria Mohammedi in 2014 that was “beyond the professional” and arranged for her to fly alongside him on costly business class flights.

On Wednesday, the U.N. said in a statement that investigators had not found evidence of “fraud or misappropriation of operational funds” against Krahenbuhl, but that there were “managerial issues that need to be addressed”.

Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., said the Krahenbul scandal was just the latest in a “growing list of charges” against the agency and that “there is no other solution to UNRWA except to close it”.

Officials from the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump have repeatedly bashed UNRWA, saying that its schools and health clinics should be run instead by neighboring countries.

The agency has struggled with a financial crisis since Washington, which was historically UNRWA’s biggest donor, slashed its contributions from $360 million to $60 million in 2018 and down again to zero for 2019.

UNRWA was established following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War surrounding Israel’s creation to help some 700,000 Palestinians who were forced from their homes by fighting. Absent of a political solution, the U.N. General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA’s mandate.

The agency provides education to 500,000 Palestinian students, health care at 144 centres that handle 8.5 million patient visits each year, and social services to 5 million Palestinians. UNRWA is also a big employer in Palestinian areas.