Ebola Response: B-Fast returns from Guinea, but Belgium continues support for Guinea

BRUSSELS, Kingdom of Belgium, February 18, 2015/African Press Organization (APO)/ — On 24 February, the B-Fast team returns from Guinea, but Belgium continues to support Guinea in the fight against Ebola. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Development Cooperation Alexander De Croo granted extra financing to keep the B-Life laboratory in Guinea, and to ensure that it continues to function. The European Commission (DG ECHO) also contributes to the funding. A team of 4 members of the CTMA (Center for Applied Molecular Technologies), three officers of the Belgian Civil Protection and two members of Defence will continue to support the work of the laboratory. This last mission is organized by the General Directorate Civil Protection (Ministry of Interior) at the request of the European Union and the Guinean authorities.

In Nzérékore, Guinea, B-Fast operated the mobile B-Life laboratory, that has advanced communication means and where blood samples can be tested on Ebola. The team supported the Ebola Treatment Center (ETC), which is managed by the French NGO Alima (Alliance for International Medical Action).

The cooperation with the NGO Alima and the local population was excellent. Thanks to the B-Fast operation, the B-Life laboratory could function optimally, which was greatly appreciated by the population and the Guinean authorities.

The B-Fast team stayed in Nzerekore for two months, as decided by the council of ministers at the beginning of December 2014. However, the end of the B-Fast mission does not imply the end of the operation in Nzerekore. The B-Life laboratory can continue to operate with the financing of the Belgian development cooperation and the European Commission. In two months, the situation will be reevaluated.

Source:: Ebola Response: B-Fast returns from Guinea, but Belgium continues support for Guinea

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Coalition for Africa Rice Development visits FAO Regional Office for Africa / The two partners discuss promoting sustainable rice systems development in Africa

ACCRA, Ghana, February 18, 2015/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Recent trends in rice production in Sub-Saharan Africa show significant opportunities for enhancing the performance of the rice sector in Africa. Most of the gains in yields and overall production can be attributed to recent initiatives that target boosting yields through improved production technologies, enhanced market efficiency, value addition and viable partnerships along the rice value chain.

“We recognize the Coalition for Africa Rice Development (CARD) as one of the key actors in rice development strategies that sustain African countries’ policies and efforts on large-scale rice production,” expressed Mr Bukar Tijani, FAO Assistant-Director General and Regional Representative for Africa, as he welcomed Mr Takanori Satoyama, General Coordinator of the Nairobi-based CARD Secretariat, on a visit to Ghana this week.

“As the demand-supply gap continues to widen, the continent relies heavily on importations to bridge this gap. Since the last African Regional Conference of Agriculture Ministers in 2014 in Tunis, FAO has continued to receive significant and increasing demands for assistance from Member States in Africa to develop rice initiatives”, he added.

In a working session at the Accra-based Regional Office for Africa, Mr Satoyama discussed with Mr Tijani opportunities to improve programme coordination and strengthen their existing cooperation in rice development and production in Africa.

“We are also requesting the support and commitment of FAO’s Africa Office in the preparations for the 6th CARD General Assembly Meeting to be held in November on the continent”, declared Mr Satoyama.

Consolidating Partnerships for a Hunger-free Africa

During the FAO Conference in Rome in June 2013, the TICAD V Conference held in Japan in 2013 and the TICAD V Ministerial meeting held in Cameroon in 2014, African Heads of State and Ministers of Agriculture emphasized the need for support to increase rice production and productivity.

On 1st July 2013, African Heads of State and Government of the African Union Member States, together with representatives of international organizations, civil society organizations, private sector, cooperatives, farmers, youths, academia and other partners met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and unanimously adopted a Declaration to end hunger in Africa by 2025. The Declaration calls for a combination of policies to promote sustainable agricultural development with social protection and budgetary allocation focused on the poor and recognition of the importance of non-state actors to ensure food security.

FAO has responded to this demand by initiating a partnership for sustainable rice systems development in Africa. The initiative seeks to mobilize resources and key partners at the global, regional, sub-regional and national levels to jointly develop and implement a holistic and comprehensive programme for sustainable rice systems development in the region.

“We remain committed to promote synergies and build on the comparative advantages of key institutions and organizations with a common vision and commitment to promoting food security and rice self-sufficiency in Africa”, concluded Mr Tijani.

Source:: Coalition for Africa Rice Development visits FAO Regional Office for Africa / The two partners discuss promoting sustainable rice systems development in Africa

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FAO provides urgent assistance to drought-stricken Cape Verde / Sharp decline in 2014 cereal production due to irregular rains

ROME, Italy, February 18, 2015/African Press Organization (APO)/ — FAO will provide food crop seeds, animal feed and drip irrigation equipment to help thousands of people in Cape Verde whose food security and livelihoods are at risk following a sharp fall in crop production due to drought.

An agreement for $500,000 for urgent assistance to the Republic of Cabo Verde has been signed by the country’s Prime Minister, José Maria Pereira Neves, and FAO’s Director-General, José Graziano da Silva, during a meeting in Rome.

“This is an extremely important agreement that will not only allow us to face the current drought, but also help to create conditions to build a sustainable agriculture in Cabo Verde,” Pereira Neves said.

The emergency intervention aims to assist 8,237 rural households which are most vulnerable to the impact of drought – Cabo Verde experienced 65 percent less rain in 2014 compared to the previous year.

Estimates from a FAO assessment mission carried out last month indicated the output from maize crop at some 1,000 tonnes. This represents the lowest level of production ever recorded in the country, and one which follows a steep downward trend over the last few years.

Immediate intervention

Some 30,000 people need urgent assistance, with many of the most vulnerable households having lost all or a large part of their cereal crops in eight of the most affected islands in Cabo Verde.

As part of FAO’s intervention, 7, 015 households will receive a 17 kilogram kit containing, maize, beans and cowpea seeds.

In addition, 554 households whose irrigation-based agricultural activities have been severely disrupted by the drought are to receive tomato, cabbage and onion seeds as part the emergency assistance effort.

Building on previous experience aimed at improving the use of Cabo Verde’s scarce water resources, and with a view to strengthen resilience capacities, drip-irrigation kits will be distributed

Considering that the production of livestock fodder was also found to be very seriously affected by the low rain levels, putting thousands of animals at risk, emergency distribution of animal feed will also be provided to 668 livestock breeding households.

Cabo Verde is highly dependent on cereal imports, especially for rice and wheat, which are not grown in the country. Approximately 80 percent of the national cereal requirements are imported.

However, the sharp decline in production will have a negative impact on farmers’ income and access to food.

In line with one of its strategic objectives, FAO is committed to building the resilience of agricultural systems and agriculture-dependent livelihoods to threats and crises. Making agriculture production less dependent on highly variable and unpredictable rainfalls is particularly crucial in an effort to build resilience in Cabo Verde.

Source:: FAO provides urgent assistance to drought-stricken Cape Verde / Sharp decline in 2014 cereal production due to irregular rains

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Africa: Biosecurity in the Time of Ebola

WASHINGTON, February 18, 2015/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Remarks

Rose Gottemoeller

Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security

University of Virginia, Jefferson Literary and Debating Society

Charlottesville, VA

February 13, 2015

As Delivered

Good evening and thank you for the kind introduction. It is great to be down here in Charlottesville. It’s also great to see so many young people here at the start of a three day weekend ready to talk about germs and bugs. Biosecurity is an issue area that will only grow in importance in the coming years, so it is encouraging to see so much interest.

Whether you are talking about anthrax, avian flu, or Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis, we need a global capability to prevent, detect and rapidly respond to biological threats no matter their origin. This is doubly so in a world that is confronting naturally occurring epidemics like Ebola, while guarding against the possibility of bioterror. With this in mind, representatives from around the world braved a Washington, DC snow storm to launch the Global Health Security Agenda exactly one year ago today.

The Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) is an international effort to accelerate progress toward a world safe and secure from infectious disease threats. GHSA partners include 44 nations, international organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and Interpol, nongovernmental partners, and private stakeholders.

In particular, the Agenda seeks to elevate efforts to:

• Prevent the likelihood of outbreaks, whether natural, accidental, or deliberate in origin;

• Detect outbreaks early to save lives; and

• Respond to outbreaks effectively using the full range of multisectoral resources

Last February, countries were called upon to make new, concrete commitments to advance national, regional or global capacity to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to biological threats. About a month after the Agenda’s launch, in March 2014, Guinea first reported confirmed Ebola cases. Since that time, the outbreak turned into the largest Ebola epidemic in recorded history, with over 22,000 cases and nearly 9,000 deaths. Beyond Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone – the three most impacted countries – Ebola spread to Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and of course, our own country.

The Ebola Epidemic underscores the significant security risks that infectious disease outbreaks pose. Ebola’s toll on the social and economic fabric of West Africa is undermining political stability and the progress that this region has made after decades of civil war.

The epidemic’s profound political and economic consequences also threaten political stability and the ability of governments to counter violent extremism from terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram. West Africa is now also home to large collections of Ebola samples, and we are putting a high priority on ensuring these collections will not be exploited for malicious purposes.

The outbreak served to underscore the direct link between international security and health capacities– the very capacities the Global Health Security Agenda aims to strengthen. It has also demonstrated the need and value of collaborations between the health, development, and security communities.

President Obama has made it clear that “fighting this epidemic is a national security priority for the United States” and that world leaders needed to increase efforts to counter a wide range of biological threats, “from infections that are resistant to antibiotics to terrorists that seek to develop and use biological weapons.”

As the President stressed, accelerating progress toward global health security will require concerted, multi-disciplinary efforts worldwide including:

• Establishing all hazards Emergency Operations Centers that can rapidly integrate real-time disease data and into response strategies;

• Training new cadres of epidemiologists who can quickly detect outbreaks;

• Broadening early childhood immunization efforts;

• Strengthening linkages between ministries of health and agriculture; and

• Bolstering the security of dangerous pathogen collections.

Packages were developed with specific, measurable targets, including advancing national biosecurity and biosafety systems, as well as real-time biosurveillance, in addition to enhancing capacity for modern diagnostics. Such diagnostics minimize the likelihood that disease agents need to be cultured and stored. We also worked to establish emergency operations centers and the necessary workforce to investigate and fight disease outbreaks – before they become epidemics.

For those of you who may have started out wondering why the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security was talking about Ebola, I assume it is clear now. Global health and nonproliferation may seem like distinct missions, but they overlap in important ways, and we can accomplish more by working together. In West Africa and around the world, the Department of State plays a central role in reducing threats from dangerous pathogens.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Departments of State, Defense, and Energy implemented the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction programs to reduce risks associated with dangerous materials, equipment, and expertise from the Soviet Union’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs. During this period, State and Defense developed substantial expertise in training scientific and laboratory personnel in biosafety and biosecurity best practices, securing collections of pathogens such as Ebola and anthrax, and improving disease detection systems. The capabilities we gained then are now helping us to fight the Ebola outbreak. Those same skills are helping us to reduce the likelihood that aspiring bioterrorists get their hands on Ebola samples.

To that end, the Department of State has trained and equipped over 1,200 Liberian police officers, over 2,000 Sierra Leonean police officers, and several hundred Guinean police officers to safely and effectively perform key security-related duties during the crisis.

We also completed a biosecurity assessment of the Malian high containment laboratory that processes Ebola samples, and will soon support this lab in bolstering its security measures. Working closely with our DoD threat reduction colleagues, we are also making sure that other labs in West Africa that store Ebola samples identify vulnerabilities and rapidly implement physical security measures. We put a premium on flexibility and speed so we could rapidly respond to developments in the outbreak. In November, when Mali experienced an unexpected uptick of Ebola cases, we responded to an urgent request to stand up an Emergency Operations Center in Bamako by quickly redirecting funds for this initiative. Within a week of the original request, the center’s equipment was in place – lightning speed by government standards.

At the core of our efforts was a massive coordination campaign. The State Department worked closely with U.S. and West African diplomats on the ground, and our counterparts throughout the government to bring the full range of U.S. resources to bear. Of course, work like this is not free, so it was also important to pool resources with the international community. All told, since President Obama urged nations to contribute to the response, countries from all over the world, private sector stakeholders, international organizations, and multilateral development banks have pledged more than $2 billion to end the epidemic.

There is still work to be done. While overall trends are positive, a modest uptick in cases in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in late January should serve as a powerful reminder that we must remain vigilant and intensify our efforts. Our fight against this outbreak is not finished until we get to zero cases. While this crisis has been primarily humanitarian in nature, the work we have done can help reinforce nonproliferation norms around the world. These nonproliferation norms tie directly back to another State Department responsibility – the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).

The BWC, for those of you who don’t know, is a legally binding treaty that bans the development, stockpiling, acquisition, retention, and production of biological agents and toxins in types and in quantities that have no justification for protective or peaceful purposes. As a note, the use of biological weapons was banned by the 1925 Geneva Protocol. My team at State has led outreach to expand the convention’s membership, and today there are 172 States Parties.

Our primary BWC objective is to work with other Parties to strengthen the Convention as an instrument for combating bioweapons proliferation and terrorism. We continue our push for universal adherence to the BWC, in order to globalize its ban on these weapons.

Every five years, the States Parties meet in Geneva to participate in a Review Conference (RevCon) that is the culmination of the last five years of efforts to strengthen the Convention. The next RevCon will take place in 2016. The United States will seek agreement on measures to improve national implementation of the Convention’s prohibitions on biological weapons and improve coordination of international assistance in the event of outbreaks of infectious disease, whether caused naturally – as in the case of Ebola – or intentionally.

Article VII of the BWC commits its Parties to provide assistance to any other Party “if the (UN) Security Council decides that such Party has been exposed to danger as a result of violation of the Convention.” The problem is that it can be difficult and time consuming to determine whether biological weapons have been used, particularly compared to use of most other types of weapons. This means that much of what needs to be done to fulfill the undertaking of Article VII is also necessary for disease outbreaks that occur naturally. The international community cannot wait to provide the necessary assistance while investigations on the cause of an outbreak are carried out.

And this fact, in turn, means that the work of the BWC in this area is tied closely to international efforts to prepare for any type of public health emergency. Planning to deal with an Article VII scenario can enhance public preparedness, but must also be done with the experience of natural disease outbreaks in mind. We are hoping that lessons learned from the response to the Ebola crisis can help BWC Parties prepare for more effective coordination in the event of future disease outbreaks, regardless of whether such outbreaks are naturally occurring, the result of accidents, or caused by intentional acts. I think one of the biggest lessons learned from the first year of the Global Health Security Agenda is that resolve makes all the difference.

The Agenda was launched on a bitterly cold and snowy day, when roads and offices across Washington were closed. That didn’t keep people from the table. They knew the effort we were starting was too important to delay. We have also witnessed extraordinary resolve and courage in the health workers in West Africa who – in the face of mortal danger – continued to treat the sick. As I said, we are determined to get to zero cases, and long after this epidemic is over, we will need that resolve to meet new challenges wherever and however they arise.

Thank you so much for your attention. I look forward to your questions.

Source:: Africa: Biosecurity in the Time of Ebola

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UN Emergency Fund CERF gives US$10.2 million for flood response in Malawi and Mozambique

NEW YORK, February 18, 2015/African Press Organization (APO)/ — United Nations humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, has allocated US$10.2 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to support thousands of families displaced by major floods in Malawi and Mozambique.

Extremely heavy rains and floods in January displaced 230,000 people in Malawi, and 50,000 people in Mozambique. Many have lost everything, including their homes.

“The Humanitarian Country Teams in both countries requested CERF funding to kick-start emergency relief efforts. CERF has been part of the collective effort to provide critical, life-saving assistance for those affected by the floods in Malawi and Mozambique,” said Mr. Ignacio Leon-Garcia, Head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Regional Office for Southern Africa.

CERF allocated $7 million for Malawi, where displaced families fled with what little they could carry. Many have found shelter in makeshift structures, schools, churches and other public buildings while thousands have been forced to sleep out in the open. Most people still lack access to the most basic facilities.

In neighbouring Mozambique, CERF provided $3.2 million for relief operations for 50,000 people housed in temporary in accommodation hardest hit Zambézia province. Almost half of Zambézia’s population was food insecure before the floods hit, meaning displaced people have extremely limited resources to fall back on.

With these funds, humanitarian partners in Malawi and Mozambique will provide urgent aid including food, shelter, clean water and sanitation services and seeds and tools so that affected farming families have another chance at a harvest and a livelihood this year.

“However, more resources will be needed to build back better, ensuring that the population affected will be more resilient in the near future,” warned Mr. Leon-Garcia.

CERF was established in 2006 to help humanitarian agencies respond rapidly to new or deteriorating humanitarian crises. Since then, CERF has allocated $18.8 million to support relief efforts in Malawi and $30.8 million for aid operations in Mozambique.

Source:: UN Emergency Fund CERF gives US$10.2 million for flood response in Malawi and Mozambique

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Readout of the Secretary-General’s meeting with H.E. Mr. Sameh Hassan Shokry Selim, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Arab Republic of Egypt

NEW YORK, February 18, 2015/African Press Organization (APO)/ — The Secretary-General met today with H.E. Mr. Sameh Hassan Shokry Selim, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Arab Republic of Egypt.

The Secretary-General reiterated his condemnation of the recent killing of 21 Egyptians in Libya by Da’esh. He also discussed with the Minister issues of mutual concern, including the situations in Libya and Gaza, and the fight against terrorism.

Source:: Readout of the Secretary-General’s meeting with H.E. Mr. Sameh Hassan Shokry Selim, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Arab Republic of Egypt

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