Ebola situation worsening in DR Congo, amidst growing ‘funding gap’ UN health agency warns

Strengthening both security and the Ebola response effort is essential to contain the growing outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), UN health agency’s officials said on Tuesday, following a visit to the epicentre of what is already the worst outbreak in the country’s history.

WHO/Junior KannahWHO delegation in Butembo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the Ebola situation is worsening (April 2019)

Following their visit to Butembo, to express gratitude and show support to staff, in the wake of the recent attack at a treatment centre that killed Doctor Richard Mouzoko and left two others injured, World Health Organization (WHO) chief, Tedros Ghebreyesus and the agency’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, reiterated their commitment to “defeat Ebola”.

During the visit, Dr. Moeti and Mr. Tedros assessed the next steps needed to adjust the response, after meeting local political, business and religious leaders, calling on them to accelerate their efforts to help stabilize conditions on the ground.

“Most Ebola response activities, including community engagement, vaccination, and case investigation, have been re-launched following a slowdown in the wake of the attack, however a rise in reported cases in recent weeks is straining resources even further”, WHO said in the statement.

“We will continue to adjust the response, as we have done for each context in each community,” said Dr. Moeti, calling for action. “In the end, it is only through ownership by all the affected communities that the outbreak will end. Some would have Ebola drive us apart. We can only defeat it if we all work together”, she added.

“We are entering a phase where we will need major shifts in the response”, said Mr. Tedros, adding that the challenges can only be tackled if the international community steps in to “fill the sizeable funding gap”, which is around 50 per cent underfunded.

Pride and respect for WHO staff

The head of WHO said also in the statement that Dr. Mouzoko’s death had “moved him profoundly” and added that the much-respected epidemiologist deployed by the agency “was on his mind the whole time of the visit, as they met with other dedicated colleagues”.
Dr. Moeti underlined that colleagues have been through something “unimaginable and yet they were willing to continue the vital work”. 

Reiterating the importance of having the security situation under control for both staff and local people, she said WHO would continue to work with various groups and embed their response at the community level.

More than 1,200 confirmed and probable cases of Ebola have been recorded since the outbreak began, with more than 760 deaths confirmed.

Libya: UN mobilized to support thousands uprooted by Tripoli clashes, renews call for humanitarian truce

Since fighting broke out on the edge of Libya’s capital, Tripoli, earlier this month, over 42,000 people have been displaced and thousands are believed trapped in the city’s southern outskirts. As UN humanitarian teams work around the clock to provide life-saving assistance, human rights chief Michelle Bachelet stressed on Tuesday the urgent need for an immediate ceasefire, and humanitarian corridor for civilians.  

OCHA/Giles ClarkeDestruction in Tripoli, Libya.

“The escalation of attacks in residential areas, including the use of artillery, rockets and airstrikes is deeply worrying. Thousands of children, women and men’s lives are at risk,” Ms. Bachelet said, calling on all parties to fully respect international human rights and humanitarian law. 

“I remind all parties to the conflict that the use of explosive weapons with indiscriminate effects, in densely populated areas is a violation of international humanitarian and human rights law,” she stated. 

In her statement released on Tuesday, human rights High Commissioner Bachelet also expressed serious concerns about the safety of around 3,350 migrants and refugees, still held in detention centres near the conflict areas. “Migrants should be released from detention centres as a matter of urgency, and should have access to the same humanitarian protection as all civilians, including access to collective shelters or other safe places,” she stressed. 

The UN refugee agency (UNHCRechoed her call for a “temporary humanitarian truce to allow for the provision of emergency services and the safe and voluntary passage of civilians out of conflict-affected areas”. 

Fighting broke out in Tripoli at the beginning of April, when General Khalifa Haftar, commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army, began a military campaign to take Tripoli from fighters loyal to the UN-recognized Government. By the second week of the month, casualties were in the hundreds, and the number of displaced, in the thousands.  

To date, the UN has recorded close to 350 people killed, including 22 civilians, and over 1,650 wounded, including 74 civilians. Ms. Bachelet noted that the actual number of civilians killed or injured “is likely to be higher”. 

“The hospitals are overwhelmed with injured people requiring surgery,” said Dr. Hussein Hassan, Health Emergencies Team leader for the World Health Organization in Libya. “WHO’s emergency medical teams are helping them save lives,” he explained, adding that the “EMTs work into the wee hours to handle complicated surgical cases.” 

“Some specialists, like the vascular surgeon, are travelling from one place to another to cover two hospitals,” he added. In just over a week, WHO’s three medical teams have performed 144 major surgeries and 104 minor surgeries in a little more than a week. 

As conflict intensifies, the UN is lacking funding to carry out critical interventions. Along with other humanitarian partners, it launched a common flash appeal for US$ 10.2 million to assist about 100,000 people specifically affected by the surge in violence around Tripoli.  

‘Continuing absence’ of political solution to Israel-Palestine conflict ‘undermines and compounds’ UN efforts to end wholesale crisis

The UN is “continuing to address the humanitarian, economic and political crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” but efforts are continually undermined by the lack of any political progress towards a two-State solution, said the head of UN Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) on Monday.

UN Photo/Manuel EliasRosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, briefs the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East. 29 April, 2019.

Rosemary DiCarlo was briefing the UN Security Council on the latest situation in the Middle East and said hopes for two States living side by side in peace, “continue to be replaced by the rising fears of future annexation. The possibility of establishing a viable and contiguous Palestinian State continues to be eroded by facts on the ground.”

The UN had “repeatedly warned that the conflict cannot be managed in perpetuity”, she said, adding that without any change in approach, there would only be more deterioration, “radicalization on all sides, more suffering and conflict.”

The political and peacebuilding chief told Council members that Israeli settlements continue to expand, despite having “no legal effect” and constituting a “violation of international law”.

In a continuing cycle of violence, Ms. DiCarlo noted that out of seven Palestinians overall, four children had been killed in Gaza by Israeli forces in the first quarter of the year, with 1,316 injured during ongoing protests, centred around the border fence. She condemned violence on both sides, and reminded Israel lethal force could only be used “in response to an imminent threat of death or serious injury as a last resort.”

Gaza crisis deepens, while needs rise

The DPPA chief said that was making “important progress” in implementing a programme of humanitarian aid and economic support to stabilize the situation in the Gaza Strip, which continues to be blockaded by Israel, and subject to intra-Palestinian strife, between the extremists of Hamas and the West Bank-based Fatah faction.

“As we consistently reiterate, at its core the crisis in Gaza is political”, she said. “Significant progress on the lifting of the closures and advancing intra-Palestinian reconciliation remain essential.”

She said over the past year, $110 million had been raised for fuel, health, water, sanitation and job programmes in Gaza, while $4.6 million had been put aside since September to help delivery essential medications and support some 9,500 surgeries.

Five tunnels under ‘Blue Line’

Turning to the border demarcation between southern Lebanon and northern Israel, or “Blue Line”, Ms. DiCarlo said the situation was calm, although the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, has now confirmed the existence of five tunnels which have been dug under the border, “three of which it has confirmed cross the Blue Line, and constitute a violation of resolution 1701”, said Ms. DiCarlo.

As we mobilize in each crisis to address the critical needs of the Palestinian population, be it in Gaza or the West Bank,” she concluded, “we shall not lose sight of the core political issue, namely the prospect of two peaceful and secure states living side by side in harmony.

“This imperative compels us all to work with the parties, bring them back to the negotiation table and urge them to avoid unilateral actions that undermine the prospect for peace” she added. “Only determined action by the parties themselves can salvage the two-State solution.”

Hatred ‘a threat to everyone’, urges Guterres calling for global effort to end xenophobia and ‘loathsome rhetoric’

A “disturbing groundswell” of hate-based violence and intolerance aimed at religious devotees across all faiths, must be countered soon before it’s too late, the United Nations Secretary-General said on Monday, noting murderous attacks in just the past few days on a synagogue in California, and a church in Burkina Faso.

UN Photo/Eskinder DebebeUN Secretary-General António Guterres signs the book of condolence at the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka in New York following terrorist attacks in April 2019 on churches in the south Asian country.

“Such incidents have become all-too-familiar” said António Guterres, citing “Muslims gunned down in mosques, their religious sites vandalized; Jews murdered in synagogues, their gravestones defaced with swastikas” and Christians “killed at prayer, their churches often torched.”

Instead of being safe havens, houses of worship have become targets, he warned, noting that “beyond the murders, there is loathsome rhetoric: xenophobia aimed not only at religious groups but also at migrants, minorities and refugees…venom directed at anyone considered the ‘other’”.

Online ‘hothouses of hate’

He said that some parts of the internet were rapidly becoming “hothouses of hate, as like-minded bigots find each other on-line”.

With “vile views move from the fringes to the mainstream” Mr. Guterres said he was “profoundly concerned that we are nearing a pivotal moment in battling hatred and extremism.”

In response he has set two “urgent initiatives” in motion; the drawing up of UN plan of action to “fully mobilize” the system to tackle hate speech, led by Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, and an effort being led by the High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) Miguel Moratinos, to help ensure the safety of religious sanctuaries.

“The world must step up to stamp out anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, persecution of Christians and all other forms of racism, xenophobia, discrimination and incitement”, said the UN chief.

Hatred is a threat to everyone – and so this is a job for everyone” he added. “Political and religious leaders have a special responsibility to promote peaceful coexistence. I will count on the strong support of Governments, civil society and

other partners in working together to uphold the values that bind us a single human family”

Summit against hate speech in Geneva

Earlier on Monday, at the UN in Geneva, a major summit to counter hate speech got underway, co-hosted by Adama Dieng.

Warning against a “revival” of ultra-nationalist groups and parties, the UN official warned that they “legitimized violations”, by portraying minorities as a threat to their culture and identity.

“These groups are spreading their incendiary language into mainstream political discourse; we see this in too many countries,” he said, at the event co-hosted with the International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty (AIDLR). “We need to collectively and actively stop these dynamics and counter them with messages of openness and inclusion.”

Just over a week ago, a terror attack on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka claimed hundreds of lives, while in New Zealand on 15 March, an extremist, and self-avowed white supremacist, gunned down 50 mosque worshippers.

Last month, Mr. Dieng also expressed concern about spiralling intercommunal violence in central Mali which claimed 134 villagers’ lives in one single attack, including women and children.

He warned that it could degenerate if nothing is done to stop it.

“Over the recent months, violence has reached unprecedented level amid retaliatory attacks and serious violations of human rights in central Mali impacting on all communities,” Mr. Dieng said in a statement. “Unless these concerns are immediately addressed, there is a high risk of further escalation of the situation in which atrocity crimes could be committed.”

Michael Møller, Director-General of UN Geneva, told participants at the Second Global Summit on Religion Peace and Security that hate speech was “spreading like wildfire through social media into the mainstream”.

“It is a menace to our values, to social stability, to peace itself. And such hate speech is in turn the breeding ground for unfathomable evil,” he said, before insisting that the attacks in New Zealand and Sri Lanka represented “the bigotry that says another person is less than my equal, less than human.”

In the face of such horrific events it was nonetheless crucial to remember that most people displayed “understanding, kindness, justice and reconciliation”, Mr Møller insisted.