2nd March 2015.
Dear Supporters of EFA,
As you may be aware, impressive headway has been made recently in controlling the spread of the Ebola virus in the three most affected countries – Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. While the epidemiological crisis is not over, and now is not the time for complacency, the worst appears to have passed and the three countries are in a good position to stamp out the virus within the coming months.
EFA’s Ebola Crisis Appeal raised about US$5000, which was used for emergency food supplies for communities surrounding the Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary, to encourage them not to turn to hunting, farming and mining of the Sanctuary for their immediate needs. This support was received with extreme gratitude. Knowing that EFA and its supporters were thinking of the communities and the Sanctuary’s staff was inspirational to them as they survived those dark months.
Looking broadly, notwithstanding the many thousands of deaths and social trauma caused by the Ebola virus, the challenge at hand is to prepare and execute plans for the countries to recover from the crisis. The effects of the crisis on the nations’ economies, food security and social fabric have been profound. Private sector activity has dramatically decreased with some major companies declaring bankruptcy and many more curtailing operations. Food production in the last year was limited, in particular in Sierra Leone, because of the restrictions on mobility, curfews and difficulty in obtaining agricultural inputs. The deficiencies in the national health care systems of the three countries became painfully clear, as did the difficulties in coordinating and delivering international support for the Ebola response.
National governments, aid agencies, development banks, international and national NGOs and other partners are busy planning post-Ebola recovery. While their focus is understandably on stimulating immediate, short-term growth, and on preparing to contain the next epidemic rapidly, EFA believes that the crisis provides perspective on how to pursue economic development differently. If we return to business-as-usual, should we expect anything other than more-of-the-same?
EFA’s perspective is different: we believe that the Ebola virus crisis is a symptom of a development model that needs critical reconsideration. This model of economic development requires never-ending growth in production and consumption to lift the target countries out of poverty. While ending poverty is a lofty objective and undeniably good, the means proposed to achieve it in countries like Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia are mainly to continue expanding production of raw materials like raw ores and other minerals, timber, palm oil and rubber. These are usually produced in the rural, forested ‘frontier’ areas of the countries, causing deforestation or forest fragmentation. In such contexts, humans and wildlife more frequently come into contact.
Ebola virus disease (EVD) is a zoonotic disease, transmitted from wildlife to humans. Many diseases affecting humans today were transmitted from a wildlife reservoir, a species in which it has little or no deleterious effect but is nevertheless transmitted from generation to generation. However when it jumps from the host animal to humans, for example when a person comes into contact with bodily fluids or aerosol particles from an infected animal, the disease can be lethal.
A development model that promotes bringing people into contact with forest-dwelling, or forest-edge-dwelling wildlife, is like playing Russian roulette: every time another chance for zoonosis – transmission of a disease from an animal to humans – occurs, the revolver’s trigger is pulled again.
EFA calls on the Governments and all development partners in Sierra Leone and West Africa, as they plan post-Ebola recovery, to integrate natural resources management fully into development plans and economic activities, whether for small-scale local production, industrial production, infrastructure development, or anything else. Development options need to be appraised in terms of what impact they could have on increasing the risk of zoonosis. Impacts on ‘natural capital depreciation’ need to be evaluated, that is, does an activity reduce a country’s natural resources which produce valuable but frequently ‘unvalued’ good and services like watershed protection, soil protection and regeneration, medicines, foods/food security, carbon storage and more? Some projects may appear to deliver solid returns in terms of revenues or jobs generated, but if they involve the loss or fragmentation of ecosystems and wildlife habitat, they may in fact be quite destructive of natural capital, undermine ecosystem services and increase risks like zoonosis. In that light they do not look so attractive.
EFA has partnered with the ERM Foundation of Environmental Resources Management Ltd. to research the links between deforestation/forest fragmentation in West Africa and zoonotic episodes. This will form the basis of an awareness campaign to be undertaken starting in late March and the second trimester of 2015, targeting the planning and execution of economic recovery for EVD-affected countries.
While the needs of communities surrounding Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary, and other forest-edge communities in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, remain great and urgent, economic recovery takes time and depends on many actors. EFA will do its best to assist the communities where it operates with both humanitarian aid and development assistance in the coming year. However EFA’s most strategic way to support Tiwai Island, and the wider national and regional contexts, will be to lobby that the recovery and development plans adopted for post-EVD recovery do not repeat the unintended consequences that contributed to the spread of the disease and many other zoonotic crises.
On behalf of the Boards of Trustees of EFA and of the Management of EFA, we wish to thank all of those who have supported us through these difficult times, and ask that you continue your support as we embark on our new, strategic campaign. Thanks to the ERM Foundation, the costs will not be large: travel and subsistence costs for EFA personnel conducting workshops, education and outreach, media and small-scale publishing costs, and other miscellanea. Please continue to help EFA generously!
Boards of Trustees, EFA UK and Ireland
Director of Regional Programmes
EFA Sierra Leone