“Ebola free” doesn’t mean the work is done

By Aria Grabowski, Oxfam Consultant for Ebola Recovery Resource Tracking and former ONE Campaign Ebola Tracker Lead

As the Ebola outbreak in West Africa draws to a close, it is easy to feel like victory has been achieved and it is time to move on. But the Ebola outbreak caused devastation to more than the patients and their families.

Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea’s economies took devastating hits; agricultural output was diminished, health systems were crippled, and the vulnerabilities in basic infrastructure were further exposed. There is still a lot more work that needs to be done and it is critical that the world does not walk away as these countries declare themselves Ebola free.

The international community must fulfill its promises of financial support to Ebola affected countries not only to recover from the impacts of Ebola, but to build back stronger more resilient health systems and equip them to face future outbreaks.

In order to ensure that affected communities are able to access the assistance they need, Oxfam has been tracking almost $6 billion worth of financial pledges made by donors towards Ebola recovery efforts. This has involved trawling through 121 public documents, regular contact with donors and comparing data with existing information from the ONE Campaign. What we have found is chaos. A lack of transparency throughout the delivery chain, from donors to implementing organizations to programs on the ground, means we’re finding it hard to understand which donors have given what money, to whom and for what purpose.

The online, interactive tracker developed to hold leaders accountable.

The online, interactive tracker developed to hold leaders accountable. (Photo credit: ONE)

Based on our best estimate of pledges and allocations, a third ($1.9 billion) of the $5.779 billion pledged has not even been assigned to a specific country. Even though eight months have passed since initial pledges were made, many of the large donors have stated that they are still trying to determine where to direct funds. Donors may be waiting to finalize their pledges in order to ensure a level of flexibility to direct funds to where they’re needed most, however, this lack of commitment creates problems for Government planning, delays support to communities and increases the risks that donors won’t meet their promises.

The Ebola recovery effort must not be a repeat of Haiti’s earthquake recovery efforts in 2010, where pledges went unfulfilled, and people were left wondering where the money went and why things were still so broken five years later.

To ensure that recovery efforts meet the needs of communities and in accordance with commitments made under the Busan declaration, donors are supposed to ensure funds are in line with national priorities. But we found that although overall pledges exceeded total requests made, the funding was not aligned to national recovery plans. Both nations still need more than a hundred million dollars to meet the costs for their health sector’s recovery, and have significant funding gaps for water and sanitation, social protection, and education – all critical areas to strengthen if another outbreak is to be prevented. Donors, implementers, and the affected nations need to work together to ensure that the $1.9 billion of unallocated funds is used to meet these gaps.

Daily life in West Point, Monrovia, an area that was severely affected by the Ebola outbreak. Oxfam has called for a multi-million dollar post-Ebola ‘Marshall Plan’ to put the three West Africa countries hit by the crisis back on their feet: The world cannot dither on putting the countries’ economies on an inclusive growth plan as it did on the Ebola response. (Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith / Oxfam)

Daily life in West Point, Monrovia, an area that was severely affected by the Ebola outbreak. Oxfam has called for a multi-million dollar post-Ebola ‘Marshall Plan’ to put the three West Africa countries hit by the crisis back on their feet: The world cannot dither on putting the countries’ economies on an inclusive growth plan as it did on the Ebola response. (Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith / Oxfam)

Timely, comprehensive, and detailed data on aid flows is a basic, essential ingredient of an authentic development partnership between donors, governments, and citizens that is crucial for sustainable development outcomes. Donors need to be publishing timely, detailed, and comprehensive information that enables governments and civil society to understand and follow where aid is going, how it is used, and what it is achieving. UNDP should urgently establish a system for consistently monitoring the Ebola Recovery pledges as well as the status of funds as they are transferred from donors to recipients.

In honor of all those that lost their lives to Ebola, we have to hold donors and implementers accountable to make sure that promised funds go where they are most needed. If that happens, it will be possible to create lasting changes that are felt for generations, and to ensure that the image of bodies piling up outside hospitals is one of history.

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Note on methodology: Oxfam defines Ebola recovery funds as all funds that a donor has stated are intended to support the recovery effort.  To count these funds, Oxfam reviewed donor statements from official releases, media and social media around the July 2015 UN pledging conference, and responses from direct inquiries with contacts at donor agencies.  Oxfam compared the data gathered through this process with existing data on recovery pledges available via the UN, the World Bank, and previous research conducted by the ONE Campaign.  Discrepancies were resolved in favor of the largest publicly announced figure, with the intention of being over-inclusive rather than under-inclusive.  For all donors, announced amounts were used even if not contractually obligated (committed).  The intent was to cast the widest net to capture all funds available for Ebola recovery based on donor public statements.  This includes remaining response funds (even if not expressly declared to be re-characterized as recovery funds), but EXCLUDES funds specifically allocated for research and development.