Our Perspective

immediate crisis response

Vanuatu: at the apex of climate change, disaster risk reduction, and recovery

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Scenes of the destruction caused by Cyclone Pam. Photo: Shoko Takemoto/UNDP

Early morning, I walked through downtown Port Vila, Vanuatu.  Tropical cyclone Pam certainly left many scars throughout the town: damaged buildings, one-sided trees, destroyed boats, and broken sea walls all silently speak of the immense power of what had swept through the land and the sea on the evening of 13th March 2015. Food security is a concern. The vegetable market at the centre of the town is still closed – there is no fresh produce left anywhere on the islands – and it may take weeks and months before the market will return to colour and life. Climate change and disasters go hand-in-hand in this exposed island nation, and clearly this disaster requires immediate relief. But as I continued walking by the waterfront, passing people, I could not help but notice the friendly smiles and warm good mornings that characterises the charm of the Vanuatu people.   Nambawan Café, a popular outdoor spot for gathering by the waterfront was already open a little before 7am, although it took me a while to notice that it was the same Café because most of the shops and structures around it had changed dramatically. I took the opportunity to speak to the staff... Read more

Inside UNDP: Lionel Laurens

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Lionel in Freetown.

Lionel Laurens, from France, is a development practitioner who has worked for UNDP for 10 years.  He’s driven by a desire to contribute to a more equal world by working with people to be in control of their own development in their own environment. 1.    What do you do for work? I’m currently the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) Immediate Response Coordinator for UNDP in Sierra Leone. I help reprioritize our activities in innovative ways to respond to the crisis by reaching out to the most marginalized and vulnerable groups in society and creating partnerships with these groups to raise their awareness of Ebola and adopt safe behaviours. 2.    Where were you before? I started working for UNDP in Lao PDR with the National Rural Development Programme. After that I worked in Afghanistan managing the National ABD Programme and in Iraq, first managing the Local ABD Programme, and then a sub-cluster of programmes covering poverty reduction and MDGs, essential service delivery, inclusive growth and private sector development. 3.    What types of assignments do you do most frequently? I spend a lot of my time working with programme teams, government counterparts, communities and other key stakeholders to develop a shared vision, formulate strategies... Read more

Adaptation and attitude are two keys to crisis response

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Sierra Leone has begun to use new, environmentally-friendly sterilizing equipment to help dispose of the vast amounts of contaminated protective equipment and infectious waste generated in treating Ebola patients. (Photo: Lesley Wright/UNDP)

I came to Sierra Leone in July 2014 on a temporary assignment as Area Based Development (ABD) Advisor, but when I arrived the Ebola outbreak had reached an unprecedented scale and the delivery of UNDP’s regular programmes was low priority.  UNDP, as a development agency, was not seen as particularly relevant or equipped to deal with a humanitarian crisis.  But UNDP had programmable resources, a strong network of relationships with government and other stakeholders, and a strong desire amongst the staff to help their communities confront Ebola.   A lot of my work at UNDP has been developing and implementing programmes in creative ways and having that experience helped during the Ebola crisis.  I helped the Country Office to reprioritize our activities in innovative ways to respond to the crisis. We reached out to our partners and marginalized groups to identify useful interventions that were in dire need. We then reprogrammed UNDP’s work to build on our existing programmes and relationships to address key issues for those not yet reached by existing prevention activities. As a result of this we have been able to: Work in partnership with local partner NGOs and government to train 300 volunteers and communities on Ebola... Read more

Five years on, Haiti builds back better

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(Photo: UNDP/Haiti)

Five years after the earthquake that devastated the country, Haiti celebrates major development gains while acknowledging that immense challenges still remain. In spite of the political and structural fragility, social and economic progress is evident. Like many countries, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have galvanized positive action in Haiti. The country has steadily boosted the net enrollment rate in primary education from 47 percent in 1993 to 88 percent in 2011 and achieved equal participation of boys and girls. The number of underweight children under five years old has been halved, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS has stabilized, and nearly 70 percent of households now have access to an improved source of water. Clearly, however, much remains to be done. Six million Haitians (60 percent of the population) still live on less than $2.50 a day. And while women head almost 50 percent of households, they hold only 4 percent of parliamentary seats. Deforestation and the loss of biodiversity are also continuing challenges, and the condition of poor urban slums, which house at least 62 percent of city dwellers, remains worrisome. Yet, despite these challenges, Haiti’s progress must be commended. First, this progress takes place in spite of the devastating 2010 earthquake... Read more

Ebola: Recovery needs to start now

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A worker poses for the camera at a dressing station in Freetown, Sierra Leone. (Photo: Lesley Wright/UNDP)

The social and economic impact of the Ebola crisis will be felt up to a decade after the disease has been eradicated. In Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, virtually every sector has suffered as a result of the epidemic. For example, based on UNDP’s most recent estimates, Liberia could experience negative GDP growth for the first time since the war ended 11 years ago, reaching -1.8 percent. In all three countries, air traffic is down, mining and palm oil concessions have been badly affected, and so have farming and small trade, crippled by quarantines and movement restrictions. The crisis is impairing the ability of governments to raise taxes and invest in infrastructure and social services. For instance, more than 800,000 women will give birth during the next 12 months. But with the severe shortage of health facilities and professionals, compounded by the fear of getting infected in a clinic, many could die without proper care. Millions of children are out of school because their classes have shut down. Whereas life before Ebola was starting to improve following years of crisis and political conflict, people are now struggling again with uncertainty. Besides the personal loss, the immense majority are finding it difficult... Read more

Ebola: How the rumour mill can churn out fact instead of fiction

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A resident of Waterloo, an Ebola virus hotspot, gets first hand prevention information from one UNDP-supported community volunteer. Photo: H. Uddin/UNDP Sierra Leone

Ebola spreads fast and rumours even faster. In a crisis where information means the difference between life and death, the rumour mill is not helping to end the outbreak. Everyone has a theory about Ebola; some claim they know how to stop it, most claim to know where it came from. Most of the theories contradict reality and serve as a roadblock to eradicating Ebola, like false cures or where donor money is spent. Sierra Leone is a story-telling society, but word of mouth is the best form of communications, particularly when more than 60% of adults are illiterate. In Sierra Leone, secret societies, tacit ethical codes and centuries-long traditions rule the roost. So when some people speak, the country listens.   With this rumour mill comes potential. We, and other UN agencies, NGOs, the Government of Sierra Leone and other stakeholders have made messaging the core of our work. Whether it’s going door-to-door, erecting giant billboards or handing out flyers, getting the right message to everyone is not just about exposure, it’s about trust. Our Ebola community messengers go through their own communities, and speak face-to-face, ensuring they are heard loud and clear. If not, their blue overalls with 117,... Read more

Ebola - a disease of poverty

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Motorcycle drivers in Monrovia sit on the side of the street, after a ban on motorcycles left them jobless. Due to the Ebola crisis, they can’t find any work. Photo credit: Morgana Wingard/ UNDP

Recently, I visited Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia to better understand the needs of these countries as UNDP helps them deal with the Ebola crisis.  In travelling from Conakry to Monrovia to Freetown, visiting communities and talking to government officials, including the Presidents of Guinea and Sierra Leone, and the Vice President of Liberia, I have seen that Ebola is now testing every aspect of the social fabric. Ebola is shaking institutions and challenging leaders, civilians and medical experts alike.  It is undermining the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and exacerbating poverty and inequality. Everywhere this disease strikes, it is the poorest, living their difficult and deprived lives in Africa’s slums – often among animals, garbage and fumes – who are most vulnerable to this disease. Many of the political leaders I met during this trip cited poverty as the cause of the disease’s spread, and economic recovery as the most pressing need for a long term solution, together with the emergency response to the epidemic.   This message will be repeated today in Washington, at the Global South-South Development Expo. There, people from across the globe will discuss poverty eradication with a special focus on responding to Ebola as... Read more

Ebola response cannot be gender blind

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With borders closed and travel restricted, small holder farmers, mostly women, are hard put to get to community markets to sell their produce. © 2014 Morgana Wingard

Years of combatting HIV, malaria and tuberculosis - all of which have taken a harsh toll on women in sub-Saharan Africa - reveal lessons that, if heeded, could help stem the tide of the Ebola epidemic. There is little doubt that women are at the frontline of the Ebola crisis, as they are most often responsible for caring for sick relatives at home, or likely to be working as nurses, traditional healers and health facility cleaners. There is scant reliable data disaggregated by gender on the current outbreak, but reports suggest it has a particularly destructive impact on women. With medical facilities overwhelmed, expectant mothers are often left without pre-natal care, obstetric services and newborn care.  With borders closed and travel restricted, small holder farmers, mostly women, are hard put to get to community markets to sell their produce.  Isolated by quarantines or orphaned by Ebola, girls and young women are at increased risk of gender-based violence and exploitation. Acknowledging the disproportionate impact of Ebola on women is a first step, but it’s not enough. To succeed, responses must put gender-specific realities and needs front and center. It is critical to recognize and involve women as leaders in their communities. Women... Read more

Hands-free diplomacy on Ebola

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A guard checks the temperature with a thermometer that doesn’t touch the skin. Photo: UNDP

While there seems to be some global hysteria about the Ebola virus spreading like a science fiction plague across the planet, I’m here in Ebola epicenter: West Africa. I’m on a delegation of UNDP senior managers to help the UN ramp up the battle against the health crisis in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Being UNDP and not a medical organization, our focus is mainly not on the direct treatment for Ebola patients. Instead, to complement the work of the many excellent organizations that are building and staffing Ebola hospitals, we’re working to prevent the further spread of the disease in poor communities, and helping to keep the countries’ economies and societies from collapsing in terror and paralysis. Am I scared for myself being here, in the countries where people are suffering an outbreak of a nightmare? Honestly, not much. I’m not a foolhardy person, but statistically and epidemiologically and rationally, I know that right now I have about as much chance of catching Ebola as of dying in a plane crash on the way home. Yes, I know Ebola is serious, but I know how it’s transmitted. The disease is very dangerous for those who are touching the very sick,... Read more

The Ebola crisis: reversing development gains in Liberia

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Monrovia, Liberia. Photo: UNDP

As the Ebola crisis continues to take a toll on people’s lives and livelihoods in West Africa, the focus is increasingly not just on the health aspects of the crisis, but also on its social and economic consequences. Sure, the human and medical aspects of the crisis are still on the front burner, as they should be. The public health care system has all but collapsed, while the number of Ebola cases is increasing exponentially. Before the current crisis, Liberia’s economy experienced impressive growth rates of up to 8.7 per cent (2013). Future growth figures will now have to be revised, as economic activities have slowed down dramatically in most sectors. But the impressive recent growth in Liberia has not been equitable or inclusive. About 57 per cent of the country’s approximately 4 million inhabitants live below the poverty line and 48 per cent live in conditions of extreme poverty. The lack of equitable, inclusive development means that more than half of the country’s population—especially women and children--is particularly vulnerable to shocks and crises, ultimately making the whole country less robust, less stable, and less able to handle a crisis of any magnitude. Reduced tax revenues as a result of reduced... Read more

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