BRISBANE, Australia: Leaders of the world’s most powerful economies on Saturday vowed to do all they can to “extinguish” the deadly Ebola outbreak in west Africa, but there were no cash commitments.
A statement issued by G20 leaders during their summit in Brisbane came on the heels of the United Nations urging them to intensify their response, warning of a major food crisis if they failed to act.
“G20 members are committed to do what is necessary to ensure the international effort can extinguish the outbreak and address its medium-term economic and humanitarian costs,” the leaders said.
They added that they would step up their response to a crisis that has left more than 5,000 people dead in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone through “bilateral, regional and multilateral channels, and in partnership with non-governmental stakeholders.”
“We will share our experiences of successfully fighting Ebola with our partners, including to promote safe conditions and training for health care and relief workers,” they said.
“We will work to expedite the effective and targeted disbursement of funds and other assistance, balancing between emergency and longer-term needs.”
World Bank president Jim Yong Kim this week called for the establishment of a multi-billion-dollar contingency fund to ensure relief efforts mobilize immediately when an infection threat such as Ebola or a rogue influenza strain emerges.
There was no mention of this by the G20, but Kim nevertheless welcomed the group’s call as “an important commitment to combat Ebola and address the terrible human and economic impact of the outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone”.
The G20 welcomed the IMF’s initiative to release $300 million to stem the Ebola outbreak, although the US government wants the Fund to go further in forgiving $100 million in debt owed by Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
“We ask the IMF and World Bank to explore new, flexible mechanisms to address the economic effects of future comparable crises,” the G20 leaders said.
Earlier Saturday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined with international aid agencies in urging more concrete actions to fight the devastating disease.
“I would also like to stress the need to intensify the international response to the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa,” Ban told reporters.
“As rates decline in one area, they are rising in others. Transmission continues to outpace the response from the international community. I urge the leaders of G20 countries to step up.”
Ban said the secondary impacts of the health crisis could spiral into other areas, including a food crisis, caused by disruption in farming.
“That could provoke a major food crisis affecting one million people across the region,” he said.
A joint petition from international aid groups including Oxfam and Save the Children urged the G20 to band together to ensure the right resources are made available in terms of personnel, equipment and funding.
“This is a chance to stop Ebola in its tracks, and it must not be missed,” said Oxfam Australia chief Helen Szoke.
Ban said while Ebola began as a health issue, it had developed into a security and economic one and needed massive resources in terms of finance, logistics and treatment.
“Because of the very extraordinary nature of this disease I think the international community has been panicked,” he said. “We should guard against this kind of panic.”
The World Health Organization said Friday that 5,177 people had so far died of Ebola across eight countries, out of a total 14,413 cases of infection, since late December 2013.
WHO has acknowledged though that the number of deaths is likely far higher, given that the fatality rate in the current outbreak is known to be around 70 percent.