Helen Clark: Opening Speech at the Technical Consultations of the International Ebola Recovery Conference

Jul 9, 2015

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Technical Consultations of the International Ebola Recovery Conference.

Allow me to begin by welcoming the Ministers of Finance of the three Ebola-epicentre countries – Minister Mohamed Diaré from Guinea, Minister Amara Konneh from Liberia, and Minister Kaifala Marah from Sierra Leone. I also welcome the Secretary-General of the Mano River Union. Without the leadership and steadfast commitment of the three Governments, and the Mano River Union, we would not be talking about recovery today.

Nevertheless, recent new cases in Liberia and ongoing new cases in Sierra Leone and Guinea remind us that the battle against Ebola is not yet won. It also underlines the urgent need to scale up national, regional, and global capacity for public health surveillance and emergency management.

While “getting to zero, and staying at zero” will be central to the sustained Ebola response, national governments rightly want to step up the focus on recovery and development. Decisive action now, under national leadership with generous international support, will address the devastating social and economic impacts of Ebola, and support the three countries to get firmly back on their development track.

This Recovery Conference builds on meetings held earlier this year in Brussels and Washington, DC, as well as on events organized by ECOSOC and the Peacebuilding Commission. The briefings and discussions today are inputs into tomorrow’s formal Pledging Conference. Then later this month, the African Union will organize a conference in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, on “Africa helping Africans in the Ebola Recovery and Reconstruction”.

We are all very aware of the devastating impact of the Ebola crisis on the people, communities and institutions of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. This impact will be felt for decades to come unless the international community steps up its support.

The most direct impact has been the tragic loss of life. The epidemic also halted the rapid growth rates all three countries had been experiencing. There has been a slowdown across the national economies, from the agriculture sector, which accounts for a large share of GDP and livelihoods, to construction, mining, and the service sectors. Many have lost their jobs and livelihoods.

The economic slow down and the urgent need to divert resources to the ‘stop and treat’ phase of the Ebola response badly affected government budgets and development spending.

The outbreak has had a disproportionate impact on women, both in the numbers infected and deceased, and on the ability of the health systems to deliver essential services, such as for pregnancy and childbirth. But health services were affected across the board: HIV screening, for example, decreased by 90 per cent in Sierra Leone.

The epidemic disrupted long standing traditions of community support and care-giving. As a way of containing the spread of the disease, families are urged not to treat their sick, and stigmatization has been widespread. Trust between peoples and within communities, the backbone of social cohesion, has been undermined.

To address the many challenges, each of the three countries and the Mano River Union have prepared the recovery strategies which are the basis for this Conference. The strategies are complementary: the national strategies outline country-specific activities, while the Mano River Union plan focuses on sub-regional and cross-border issues. Together, the overarching objectives of these plans are to:

1. Halt the epidemic and prevent future outbreaks;
2. Restore and strengthen capacity in public services, including health;
3. Restore livelihoods and build community and national resilience; and
4. Address structural factors which made containment difficult.

I am pleased that the United Nations and other partners have supported the development of these strategies. We look forward to the detailed briefings from the Finance Ministers and the Secretary-General of the Mano River Union in this morning’s session.

The opening presentations will then be followed by four thematic sessions on health, nutrition and WASH; governance, peacebuilding and social cohesion; education and social and child protection; and socio-economic revitalization. These are all critical components of a comprehensive approach to recovery. These themes are featured in the Ebola Recovery Assessment, and have been identified by the three countries and the Mano River Union as important, cross-cutting priorities.

The focus of today’s discussions will be on approaches to and principles for recovery, to get a better understanding of how the three countries will go about the recovery process, and how various actors can contribute to this process. Our discussions will inform the high-level segment tomorrow.

In closing, let me assure you that the United Nations as a whole and UNDP as the lead agency designated by the UN Secretary-General to support recovery are committed to helping countries turn their visions for recovery into reality.

I wish you productive discussions today, and ask for generous support from partners tomorrow, so that the foundations can be laid for sustained economic and social recovery from the Ebola crisis in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

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