Special Representative of the Secretary-General Karin Landgren’s briefing to the media in Monrovia
Good afternoon, and welcome to UNMIL.
My briefing to the United Nations Security Council on 9 September was devoted entirely to the rapidly evolving developments related to Ebola. I told the Security Council then – and it is certainly true now – that Ebola represents Liberia’s gravest threat since the civil war.
Because of the Ebola crisis, the Security Council did not discuss UNMIL drawdown and security transition. That discussion has been postponed. The focus was entirely on the destabilizing impact of Ebola and the economic, social, political and security consequences that have already been felt. Prices have risen, economic growth is expected to be cut by more than half, trade has reduced, many farmers are not tending their fields, and children are not in school.
The Security Council adopted its resolution on UNMIL on September 15th, expressing grave concern about the extent of the outbreak of the virus.
One of the critical messages reinforced by the Security Council Resolution is that of UNMIL staying at Liberia's side as the country battles to turn the tide of Ebola infections. UNMIL's mandate has been "rolled over" as they say, until the end of 2014. Rolling it over means that it has been extended without any change in UNMIL’s current tasks. The Council also expressed their intention to extend UNMIL until 30 September 2015. The Council will meet again in November to discuss this extension, and to discuss the nature of UNMIL's tasks for the coming year.
Liberians have told me how important it is that UNMIL has made clear from the outset its intention to remain and support the country through this crisis. UNMIL's position - especially in July and August - helped other international actors decide to continue working here during this very challenging time.
The numbers of new cases and deaths are still rising exponentially. By 27 September, there had been 3,664 reported cases, including 1,983 deaths. I want to say a few more words about UNMIL's mandate, then about what I've observed when I traveled to the counties, and finally about the new regional UN Ebola mission, UNMEER.
First, about UNMIL's mandate. Because it has simply been "rolled over", there is nothing in UNMIL’s mandate, nothing in the resolution about the UN providing electoral support. If this need arises between now and the end of December, if Liberia needs electoral support from the UN before the end of December before we have the new mandate, the UN Secretary-General can, based on my recommendation, ask the Security Council to authorise UNMIL to undertake specific tasks, and this could include electoral support.
The priority now is for Liberians to take a cool and measured look at election options in light of the need to protect the population from Ebola Virus Disease, and using to the full the country's democratic institutions and processes.
The NEC has advised that the mid-term senatorial elections cannot take place on October 14th. They have told the President and they have told the Legislature this. In this climate of uncertainty caused by Ebola, there is a very strong need for the public to have clarity about the next steps in the electoral process - and to have this clarity before we reach the date of October 14th when those elections would normally have been held. I understand that this will be resolved by the end of this week. UNMIL welcomes a timely and transparent decision on the mid-term elections.
Second, a word about Ebola response in the counties. In August and September, I was in Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, and Montserrado of course, Bong, Margibi and Lofa. Speaking with the County Health Teams, Ebola Task Forces, Superintendents, Civil Society organisations in these counties. I've observed these county-level actors developing plans, strategies for what needed to be done in their counties to stop the spread of Ebola and also to start putting back regular health services back into place. UNMIL and other partners have offered support and advice. The County Health Teams have monitored cases, they’ve trained Community Health Volunteers (GCHVs), they’ve engaged with communities and traditional chiefs, and they’ve done much more. Those counties where the legislative caucus has also come together to support the process, they have seen particular benefits from this.
Counties were often frustrated by their lack of resources. UNMIL Field Offices in every county have provided support, including funding Quick Impact Projects. What I’ve observed in the counties during these painful and difficult months, since Ebola entered Liberia, is considerable resilience, determination, and self-reliance.
Even as the number of new cases increases, some communities have made progress in changing behaviors and in reducing transmission risks. This is an achievement and part of the way this has been achieved is through this remarkable mobilisation at county level. This is an encouragement as well to Liberia to consider how to keep decentralisation plans for the country on track. This appears to be one of the lessons we can draw from the Ebola crisis, and an opportunity to take decentralisation further.
The third and last point concerns the new Ebola emergency health mission, UNMEER. On 18 September, the UN Secretary-General announced the creation of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, or UNMEER, which will be headed by an SRSG based in Accra. It will work exclusively on emergency health aspects of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, seeking a well-coordinated response across the United Nations agencies and also working to mobilize more resources for the fight against Ebola.
I will suggest that you hold any questions you have about UNMEER to ask them directly of the new UNMEER SRSG. He has arrived in Liberia on his initial tour of these three countries and is scheduled to have a press briefing tomorrow on UMEER. Let me underline that UNMIL remains in Liberia and will continue to do our principal work in line with our mandate as well as lending our resources to the fight against Ebola.
As we stay in Liberia and continue to do our work, UNMIL has actively taken steps since March to educate all our personnel and to help them protect themselves against EVD. The safety of UNMIL staff is my top priority. Last week, a Liberian staff member in UNMIL passed away from probable Ebola Virus Disease. EVD cannot be confirmed in this case, but UNMIL is treating it as a probable case of EVD. It is a sad reminder of the ever-present risk for us, particularly our national staff, and sobering for us as a Mission and as the UN Family. UNMIL will continue to strengthen the measures we put in place to protect our staff, and to remind them to protect themselves and their families outside working hours.
UNMIL’s commitment to Liberia is steadfast. We have stood by Liberia for eleven years - today is the anniversary. The mission will continue to do all we can within our range of capabilities to help roll back the tragedy that is Ebola.