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Asian Cities’ Endless Summer

POTSDAM/MANILA – It’s monsoon season in Asia – marking an end to months of scorching temperatures. But the extreme heat will return, with cities facing particularly brutal conditions. Already, Asia’s urban areas experience twice as many hot days as its rural areas do – and could experience ten times as many by 2100. At that point, there will be no reversing the trend.


The first detailed assessment of climate risk for Asia, carried out by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), makes clear that Asia’s cities stand at the frontline of the fight against climate change. Indeed, many consequences of a hotter planet – such as more extreme weather events, sea-level rise, environmental migration, and mounting social tensions – intersect in urban areas.

This is particularly true in Asia, where cities house more than half of the population and produce almost 80% of economic output. By 2050, Asia’s urban population could nearly double, to three billion people. Without new climate initiatives, the region’s cities could contribute more than half of the increase in global greenhouse-gas emissions over the next 20 years.

Such a scenario is often called “business as usual.” Yet, in reality, it is business as usual that would be disrupted by the consequences of climate change, with unfettered warming impeding or even reversing Asia’s recent economic progress.

The longer we wait to address the climate challenge, the more devastating the disruption will be. And we may not get much warning, because climate effects generally do not evolve in a linear fashion, but rather emerge suddenly and powerfully, once certain tipping points have been reached.

So far, not nearly enough has been done to assess Asia’s exposure to climate impacts, much less to strengthen protections for vulnerable areas or reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The region needs low-carbon green growth strategies that use less land, water, and energy. These strategies will help to slow rapid urbanization, which entails dense construction, sealed roads, and private cars – all of which contribute to the “urban heat island” effect.

If we continue on our current path, the mean temperature over the Asian landmass could soar by more than 6°C (10.8°F), relative to pre-industrial levels, by 2100. People may fall ill and even die from respiratory and other ailments caused by heat stress or pollution. Beyond the human costs, higher temperatures would undermine agricultural and industrial productivity.

Climate-driven migration flows will exacerbate the challenges Asian cities face. Unless a sufficient number of decent jobs are created, climate migrants could become a permanent underclass. Even if jobs are available, the environmental pressure created by ever-more populated cities will pose a grave threat. Yet projections of the impact of climate change on migration in Asia remain indefensibly limited in number, scope, and predictive power.

In order to improve city planning and health-care services, we need a simple and accurate way to assess current and future heat-tolerance levels among urban populations. We also need strategies to decrease urban heat stress, including a shift toward polycentric urban configurations, with economies and societies built around multiple regional hubs, rather than concentrated around a single city, and natural assets maintained through eco-corridors and connected green spaces.

But rising temperatures are far from the only threat posed by climate change. Extreme weather events, from droughts to floods, will intensify and become more frequent. In Asia, increased rainfall and worsening tropical cyclones will wreak havoc on food production, driving down rural incomes. In Sri Lanka, for example, rice yields could drop by up to 20% by 2050; in Fiji, cassava output could plummet by 36%.

All of this would be exacerbated by rising sea levels, which could be 1.4 meters (4.6 feet) higher by the end of the century, potentially causing many countries to lose more than 10% of their land area. If countries meet their commitments under the Paris climate agreement, the total sea-level rise could be halved, with more ambitious schemes promising even greater reductions. If, however, we continue on our current path for just a couple more decades, we could trigger centuries of rising sea levels, even if we subsequently ended all greenhouse-gas emissions. The effects would be gradual but merciless.

The risks are arguably highest on Asia’s crowded coastlines, where millions of people are exposed to flooding. And those risks continue to mount: in countries such as Bangladesh, India, the Philippines, and Vietnam, coastal populations are expected to double by 2060. Asia is home to 13 of the 20 global cities expected to experience the sharpest increases in annual economic loss due to floods between now and 2050.

As it stands, the risks of sea-level rise for Asia’s coastal urban centers are still not sufficiently understood, nor have they been adequately integrated into planning processes. This must change. In flood-prone countries, city-planning schemes should blend gray infrastructure, such as drainage systems, dikes, and sea walls, with green measures, like conservation of wetlands and forests. Improved meteorological observations and early-warning systems would also help substantially.

But here, again, there is a lack of adequate knowledge and preparation. There is no systematic analysis of the economic costs and benefits of coastal fortification relative to other approaches. “Softer” interventions, like better land-use planning and ecosystem-based approaches, are widely supported, but their effectiveness has been assessed in only a few small-scale studies.

Flood risks could complicate energy-infrastructure development in coastal cities in countries like Bangladesh and India. Here, at least, the way forward is clearer: closer regional cooperation would help to offset power shortages, while off-grid energy from renewables and climate-resilient supply networks would help countries to enhance their energy security.

Given Asia’s massive size, population, and economic importance, it must be at the center of global efforts to mitigate climate change. In many ways, Asia’s cities hold Earth’s future in their hands. They must do their utmost to protect it.

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber is the Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Bambang Susantono is the Asian Development Bank’s Vice-President of Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development.

Reckless criticism

River Gee County Senator Conmany Wesseh has described as ‘reckless’, claims by critics that President Ellen Johnson - Sirleaf is not supporting the presidential bid of her deputy, ruling Unity Party (UP) presidential candidate Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai.


Mr. Wesseh told an interview in Monrovia Tuesday, 19 September that such claim does not bring anything new to the table. He deems it as funny and unacceptable that people would create a believe that the President is not in support of Vice President Boakai, when in fact, President Sirleaf was not forced to have selected Boakai in 2005 and 2011 during the presidential elections as running mate.

He argues that President Sirleaf was not also forced to have lifted the hands of Mr. Boakai as the person to take over from her. Mr. Wesseh’s reaction comes after recent slogans were heard from groups believed to be Mr. Boakai’s supporters during the UP national rally launch in Monrovia, saying “Our Ma spoil it, Our Pa will fix it”.

Prior to the recent UP campaign launch, Mr. Boakai is reported to have said on a local radio talk show that he is like a racing car packed in the garage.
But Sen. Wesseh notes that these kinds of statements are harmful and unneeded in the contemporary period. Touching on other issues, the River Gee Senator says candidates are commercializing politics here, thereby creating proliferation of political parties in the name of multi party system.

He stresses that the actual sense of the establishment of political parties is to amass wealth at the expense of the country and its citizens.  An icon of Liberia’s struggle for multi-party system, Mr. Wesseh adds that the National Elections Commission (NEC) needs to enforce some the Election Laws on the book in order to reduce the commercial political parties here.

He observes that many portions of the new Election Law are not fully being adhered to by the Commission. Mr. Wesseh expresses happiness over how the political campaign activities have been conducted so far.

He has pointed out that since the commencement campaign here, political actors are managing the process that could lead the country to a peaceful and violence free elections.

By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor--Edited by Winston W. Parley

GC organizes second stakeholders’ forum

In continuation of its Civic Education Forum on the Electoral Environment, the Governance Commission (GC) will this Thursday, 21 September organize the second stakeholders’ forum in support of the national discourse on the role of electorate, their expectations and challenges during elections.



According to a press release issued in Monrovia Wednesday, 20 September, the forum will be held under the theme: “Sustainable Economic Development and Growth”, and it is expected to take place at the Corina Hotel Conference Hall.

The release says the forum is a national dialogue which seeks to provide an opportunity where politicians, citizens, and experts on electoral matters and other professionals who closely work with relevant technicians of the electoral environment provide information that ensures the political education of citizens’ understanding of the difficulties and correlated activities in nation-building process.

The GC notes that the forum is the second of a series of forums taking place in the month of September 2017 in different venues that brings together participants from national government, the private sector, the media, academic institutions and civil society organizations.

The first dialogue which took place on September 14 on the topic: “Education and Healthcare delivery” discussed the problems as it concerns Liberia’s healthcare delivery and education challenges in direct response to needs in the two cardinal areas of the country’s development process.

The third forum will take place on Friday, September 29, 2017, on the topic: “Agriculture and Food security”. -- Press Release.

Sherman laments

The former Chairman of the beleaguered ruling Unity Party or UP Senator Varney Sherman has been licking his old wounds as his party sinks deep into factions-with one group believed to be headed by him, while another by President Sirleaf.


Sen. Sherman, one of the lead indictee in the over US$900,000 Global Witness alleged bribery case, says President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has awarded him “evil” for all of his good services over the years to her.

He did not say though if that has been the root cause of the deepening divide within the UP, with a section loyal to him going toe to toe with this loyal to the President. But Sherman was indicted and subsequently put on trial along with several others, including ex-speaker Alex Tyler.

Addressing legislative reporters at his Capitol Building Office in Monrovia on Tuesday, 19 August Senator Sherman, who is ex-chairman of President Sirleaf’s governing Unity Party, narrates in frustration that following the 2005 General and Presidential elections, which they both contested as presidential candidates, President Sirleaf approached him and the Liberia Action Party (LAP) that he led as standard bearer, for a merger, which he wholeheartedly accepted, despite refusal by some powerful stalwarts of his party.

The Liberian corporate lawyer continues that he consented with the understanding that the deal for was in the best of the country.

Senator Sherman notes that in its final report and recommendations, the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended that Madam Sirleaf should be barred from active politics, but he challenged the recommendation before the Supreme Court free of charge, adding that when Liberians rejected four proportions for national referendum, including tenure for presidency, he also took the matter before the Supreme Court and won the case to declare winner for legislative seat on the basis of simple majority.

According to him, President Sirleaf did not give him a dime for those legal services, but he did so purely on the basis of building cordial relationship with the President indirectly for the betterment of the Unity Party. During his entire tenure as chairman for the ruling party, relations with the then standard bearer, was rough.

Sherman further explains that when the merger deal was concluded with the Liberia Action Party, Liberia Unification Party and the Unity Party, which led to the second term victory of President Sirleaf, he raised millions of United States dollars to fund the President’s campaign activities.

However, he notes that the only award the President gave him was to indict him falsely on the Global Witness report, thereby derailing his hard earned characters built over the years.

According to him, he deserves better from the presidency than using a “British boy” to disdain his image in the name of politics or fighting corruption.

Cllr. Sherman, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, further laments that during the 2014 special senatorial election, President Sirleaf refused to support his bid for the senate despite his lobbying powers that he brought on the table of the Unity Party. He claims that he won 60 percent of the total votes cast without any support from her.

He argues that the reported changed of concession law, for which he is on trial, was done with the involvement of the European Union, the United States Agency for International Development or USAID, and other international groups.

A Global Witness Report released last year uncovered over US$950,000 in bribes and other suspicious payments by UK mining firm Sable Mining and its Liberian lawyer, Cllr. Varney Sherman.

President Sirleaf subsequently constituted a taskforce headed by Cllr. Jonathan Fonati Kofa to investigate, prosecute and hold those culpable to account. Sable Mining and Sherman reportedly paid bribes in order to change Liberia’s law and get their hands on one of its most prized assets, the Wologizi concession, according Jonathan Gant, Senior Campaigner with Global Witness. “The government must act fast and investigate Sable, Sherman, and the officials they paid.”

By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor-Editing by Jonathan Browne

Sierra Leone Mudslides: A Preventable Social Disaster or an Inevitable 'Natural Disaster'?

What lessons can African countries learn from Sierra Leone’s devastating mudslides? Was the disaster due to natural events or is there a social dimension? Is there anything such as a 'natural disaster'? What can be done to reduce risks?


On August 14, 2017, torrential rainfall caused a hillside to collapse in Sierra Leone’s capital city. This torrential downpour triggered mudslides that killed hundreds of residents and destroyed properties. As of August 19, 2017, the death toll is placed at 467, with approximately 600 still missing.

Heavy rainfall is not a strange phenomenon in Sierra Leone. The country experiences heavy annual rainfall and is ranked 12th globally in annual precipitation by rainfall. Sierra Leone received over 2,500 mm of rain from 2013 to 2017, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
Sierra Leone is therefore familiar with heavy rainfall. Torrential downpours are common in August and September. The country has also experienced disasters sparked by heavy rains in the past. In 2015, floods killed 10 people and left thousands homeless.

aHow could a torrential downpour lead to a disaster in a country accustomed to heavy rainfall?
‘Naturalness’ or a ‘Social Causation’ of the Disaster?
Since the news of the disaster, the widespread interpretations tend to focus on the ‘naturalness’ of the event, as exemplified in the phrase ‘natural disaster’. The natural hazards that triggered this disaster, the torrential rains, floods, and mudslides,are dominating our attention. Headlines like ‘Sierra Leone mudslides kill 461’ (Telegraph UK), ‘Sierra Leone death toll now up to 450 after mudslides’ (Daily Mail), and ‘Sierra Leone Braces for More Floods Amid Mass Burials’ (Bloomberg) all highlights the natural hazards that led to the disaster.
But is there anything natural about disasters?
As contentious as it may sound, many hold the view that there is no such thing as a ‘natural disaster’. Hazards, such as floods or mudslides or hurricanes or earthquakes, are natural phenomena. But disasters are not. Whether a natural event will lead to a disaster will depend on whether that natural event will interact with exposed and vulnerable people and assets. For example, floods in an uninhabited part of the Sapo National Forest in Liberia will produce no disaster while floods of the same magnitude and intensity in the slum community of West Point in Monrovia, Liberia may lead to a disaster.
The ‘natural’ causes of disasters cannot be detached from the ‘social’ aspects of disasters. Humans have always earned their livelihoods in locations that combine opportunities with hazards. For example, the slopes of a volcano are fertile for agriculture but there is a risk of a volcanic eruption. Floodplains or slopes of hills provide cheap land for housing but there is a risk of flooding or landslides. In many cases, the poor can only afford to live in unsafe slum settlements in and around the cities where they seek their livelihood as daily wage menial workers or petty traders.
The vulnerability of people to hazards in the congested cities of developing countries is a result of a mixture of factors including the prevalence of informal settlements, the presence of urban poverty, marginalization, increasing settlements in disaster-prone areas, lack of disaster preparedness and early warning, amongst others.
People who are constrained to live in adverse social and economic conditions in urban areas are prone to suffer from the impacts of hazards and extreme events. People are vulnerable not only because of the geophysical factors but also due to the way that assets, income, and access to other resources, including knowledge and information, are distributed between the different social groups.
But the understanding of vulnerability to disasters in African cities tends to be restricted mainly to the geophysical or natural triggers, with the socioeconomic and political factors largely ignored.
What are the probable causes of the August 14 disaster in Sierra Leone?
The impacts of the August 14 mudslides are still being assessed and there is no comprehensive evaluation yet regarding the ‘structural’ and ‘non-structural’ causes of this disaster.
But while heavy rainfall and the mudslide are natural hazards, many are indicating that environmental degradation and lack of appropriate infrastructure are to blame for the intensity of the mudslides.
Almost a million people live in and around the forested mountain regions in Freetown. The authorities were aware of the potential threats to people and assets on the slopes and there have been some efforts to reduce the risks. Deforestation of the hilltops and slopes of the mountainous regions had removed the essential service and protection that trees provided in anchoring soil on the ground. The Global Forest Watch states that Sierra Leone has lost nearly 800,000 hectares of forest cover in the past 10 years.
So, one can safely assume that environmental degradation is largely responsible for the devastating mudslides. But there are other equally crucial factors to consider.
One key contributing factor for the disaster was the lack of disaster preparedness and early warning. Lives could have been saved if there was an efficient disaster preparedness program and early warning mechanism in place. For example, several news outlets reported that the Sierra Leone's meteorological department did not issue a warning to prompt evacuations from areas susceptible to disasters before ande during the torrential rainfall from August 11 to August 14. No warning was issued even though Sierra Leone had received three times more rainfall than expected during the rainy season since July 1, 2017. No warning was issued despite the three consecutive days of the heavy downpour from August 11 to August 14. There was no planned evacuation from the affected area even though a clear risk was evident.
Disaster preparedness was the main reason why there were so few casualties in Cuba from the effects of Hurricane Matthew in 2016 while the lack of disaster preparedness was the major reason why the hurricane had a devastating effect on Haiti. Both countries were hit hard by the hurricane, but 470 deaths were reported in Haiti while Cuba did not record any death as a direct result of the Hurricane.
Poor urban planning is also a factor. Freetown is plagued with a longstanding challenge of poor urban planning and development. Construction is poorly regulated, building codes are not enforced, and urban planning is practically non-existent. Lack of livelihood options is forcing people with precarious livelihoods to settle in unsafe areas. Accelerated development is leading to impervious surfaces that cannot retain water due to the paving of surfaces and clogging of waterways.
The prevalence of poverty in Sierra Leone is also a contributing factor for the hazard turning into a disaster. Poverty reduces resilience and tends to exacerbate the effects of disasters. Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world and the bulk of its citizens lack the capacity to engage in disaster risk reduction activities on their own. For example, wealthier people may have the capacity to construct disaster resilient buildings; the poor will not have such a capacity. The poor are more concerned with meeting the demands of their daily lives rather than focusing on disaster risk reduction activities. The lack of land tenure in informal settlements will also make it difficult for the poor to invest in building disaster resilient homes.
What can be done to Prevent Future Disasters?
African countries engaging in disaster risk reduction activities must consider both the ‘structural’ and ‘non-structural’ approaches to risk reduction. Structural approaches will include the engineering interventions such as the construction of and maintenance of hazard-resistant infrastructures while non-structural measures will include efforts such as early warning systems, evacuation programs or insurance schemes for affected individuals.
Firstly, there is a need for a legislative framework, especially for building/construction codes. A legislative framework will coalesce legal reform with key policy processes which will determine the priorities and mandates of responsible institutions and further explain the roles, rights, and responsibilities of stakeholders, including the national and municipal authorities, construction companies and building owners. An enabling legislation will also impose a fiduciary duty on institutions to implement the building regulations.
The International Strategy for Disaster Risk (ISDR) Resilient Cities campaign has highlighted building codes as a key component of disaster risk reduction for cities. For example, Ethiopia’s Building Code 1995 (EBCS-8) provides a strong legal framework for safe buildings, and the code contributes directly to the disaster risk reduction endeavors by guaranteeing that buildings are disaster-resilient. In Turkey, the Law on Land Development Planning and Control 1985 guarantees that geological studies must be conducted before construction permits are issued.
Secondly, more should be done to tackle illegal construction in overcrowded informal settlements. Construction in hazard-prone areas must also be banned. In Turkey, for example, areas with high seismic risks are excluded from development. Building in flood plains or deforested slopes must be curtailed due to their hazardous nature while reclamation of mangrove swamps around urban centers should be restricted because of the important water retention services these swamps will provide.
Thirdly, disaster preparedness and early warning signals must be improved. This will be crucial to coping with unexpected, sudden onset disasters such as the mudslides of August 14, 2017, in Freetown. An information dissemination infrastructure should be established to improve the knowledge of residents of urban areas and such information dissemination infrastructure should consider where residents can easily obtain information from, what actions they should take in the event of sudden onset hazards, and locations of safe zones in the event of a hazard event.
Cuba is an example of how thorough disaster preparedness can prevent casualties from disasters. The country has a mandatory hurricane drill every May in anticipation of the hurricane season. During the onset of Hurricane Matthews, the country broadcasted warnings about the advancing hurricane on television and radio. People were adequately informed about the evacuation and other safety procedures. While hundreds of homes were destroyed, no deaths were reported as a direct result of the hurricane due to the country’s level of preparedness.
Furthermore, the capacity of disaster risk reduction institutions must be enhanced. For example, the Sierra Leone’s meteorological department did not issue a warning ahead of torrential rainfall or any safety or evacuation procedures for the affected areas. Many institutions in African countries, including municipal authorities, are often under-funded and are unable to deal with the myriad of hazards.
The enforcement capacity of relevant authorities, especially for building codes must be enhanced. The reduced capacities of authorities to enforce building codes is engendering the situation where unscrupulous contractors can flout building standards or where poor and marginalized populations can settle and construct homes in unsafe areas. Enforcement is often lacking due to a combination of various factors such as a lack of resources on one extreme or a conscious dereliction of duty on the other extreme.
It is also important to initiate a disaster micro-insurance scheme for residents to enable them to easily have access to affordable life and health insurance in the event of disasters. The micro-finance should also cover the loss of assets since most of the poor households also use their homes for their economic activities. While disaster insurance is a good risk transfer method for increasing financial resilience to disasters, there is still an evident gap in understanding how disaster insurance works in the context of a developing country as it has only been applied in countries with established insurance markets.
It is also important that the public authorities become more involved with waste management and the maintenance of infrastructures such as drainages. Proper management of the drainage systems and improvement of the existing sanitary systems will prevent the spread of diseases during floods or mudslides. Burst septic tanks spill-over and garbage in drainages will contribute to pollution and the outbreak of diseases in the event of a disaster. The waste collection and disposal system should also be improved.
Conclusion
We can point to a plethora of causes for the devastating mudslides in Sierra Leone: chaotic development caused by the rapid unplanned urbanization of Freetown, deforestation of hilly areas, poor urban planning and development, lack of disaster preparedness, widespread poverty levels, among others.
To avert similar disaster from occurring in African cities, there is a need to look beyond the geophysical and structural/technical causes of disasters. It is important to also understand what forces socially-disadvantaged people to live in risky areas, as well as factors including rapid population growth, unplanned urbanization, unsustainable land use practices, land availability/unavailability, and land costs. It is also important to consider the capacity of governments to control urban development, prepare for future disasters, and address the glaring poverty levels that are making people more vulnerable to disasters.

Peacekeepers demand immediate solution

Three international peacekeeping organizations here including ECOWAS, AU and UNMIL are jointly cautioning Liberia’s three branches of government to coordinate and find an immediate amicable solution to an impeachment plan being advanced by lawmakers against three justices of the Supreme Court.


“While fully respecting the sovereignty of Liberia and its institutions, the AULOL, ECOWAS and UNMIL call upon the Legislative, Judicial and Executive branches of Government to work in a coordinated and mutually supportive way and to spare no effort in finding an amicable and immediate solution to this dispute..,,” the peacekeepers said in a joint statement issued Wednesday, 16 August.

The African Union Liaison Office in Liberia (AULOL), the Office of the Special Representative of the President of the ECOWAS Commission in Liberia and the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) have jointly acknowledge that over the past 13 years since the end of civil war, Liberia has made tremendous strides in strengthening its institutions and in building a strong and vibrant democracy.

But they are now asking Liberian authorities at these three branches of government to act in coordination in the interest of all the Liberian people who are looking forward to peaceful elections in a violence-free atmosphere.

Three justices are being pursued with impeachment by lawmakers here at a time presidential and representatives candidates look to the Supreme Court for decision in elections - related matters.

There are some 20 presidential candidates in addition to hundreds of candidates that are contesting for 73 seats at the House of Representatives. In the wake of emerging constitutional crisis, the peacekeeping organizations remind all branches and institutions of Government here to respect the letters and spirit of the Constitution and abide by the laws of the Republic of Liberia in compliance with international best practices and promotion of good governance.

They are asking the various branches of government to spare no effort in finding an amicable and immediate solution to this dispute in the interest of all the Liberians.They are clear that they note with grave concern the tensions between the Legislature and the Judiciary over attempts to initiate impeachment proceedings by the House of Representatives against three Supreme Court Justices.

They also cite the ‘stay order’ placed against the impeachment proceedings by the Supreme Court, as well as the press statement from the Executive Mansion on this matter.
“We call upon all stakeholders to prioritize national interest as the country moves toward the final phase of peaceful, fair, participatory and transparent elections, and the transition to a new Government in 2018,” the organizations say.

They also request all political parties to reaffirm their love of country and their commitment to violence-free elections as agreed in the Farmington River Declaration. “We assure all Liberians of our continuous support towards maintaining stability, ensuring sustainable peace and facilitating development in Liberia,” they note in a joint statement.
They conclude that they will continue to follow developments closely and support all efforts aimed at de-escalating the situation.

 

Helping the Heroines of Polio Eradication

NEW YORK – Last month, world governments and other donors pledged $1.2 billion to help carry the 30-year fight to eradicate polio over the finish line. At its height, the polio epidemic caused 350,000 cases of paralysis in children every year. Last year, only 37 cases were reported. So far this year, the number stands at six.


But as momentous as these gains are, victory over polio is not yet assured. And one factor – the role of female vaccinators – will be a critical determinant of success. Women have long been on the front lines of the global effort to end polio. In places like the tribal areas of Pakistan, male vaccinators are often not allowed to enter a stranger’s home, whereas female health workers can deliver the vaccine to vulnerable children, along with other routine immunizations and basic health services.

In 2015, I traveled to neighboring India to take part in a national immunization campaign, joining an all-female team of health workers assigned to administer the polio vaccine to children in an impoverished part of New Delhi. I accompanied a local health worker, Deepika, on my crutches, as I have been crippled by polio myself.

We made our way through the crowded dirt paths, and at one house, a mother of three whom Deepika knew well invited us in. Deepika paused knowingly: “Someone is missing,” she said, counting two children. The mother replied that her eldest child had gone to another village. Deepika recorded this fact in her notepad, vowing to return, and vaccinated the remaining children before moving on. Even one child missed is too many.

Where polio still persists – in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria – vaccinators like Deepika work tirelessly to reach every child. This “last mile” in the global polio eradication drive is indeed the toughest. According to the June 2017 report of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, more than a million children remain unvaccinated, including 858,000 in Pakistan alone.

The hardest-to-reach children in Pakistan are those on the move, traveling from relative to relative as families search for a better life, often crossing the Afghan border. While some of these children are vaccinated at border crossings, many are missed.

The IMB is now calling for a new approach: finding the children not when they are in transit, but wherever they reside, no matter how short their stay. This strategy calls for deep local knowledge to anticipate when a child will return, so that a vaccinator can be there. And who better to know such intimate details than the women of the communities in need of this service?

In the Pakistani district of Kohat, south of Peshawar, female vaccinators have been credited with helping to lower the number of unvaccinated children from 30,000 to 22,000, and to reduce the number of vaccine refusals from around 4,000 to 400. These brave and dedicated women conduct their work despite great obstacles, including threats to their safety. One health worker described how she has been going door to door to administer the polio vaccine to children for 16 years. Despite pleas from her family to stop, she persists, heartened by the fact that for years, not a single child in her area had been crippled by polio.

Conversely, in Quetta, the area of Pakistan with the highest number of susceptible children, female vaccinators are in short supply, and turnover is high. There, the number of confirmed polio cases is on the rise.

These two cities tell the story of the polio eradication campaign: success, or failure, depends on the role that female vaccinators play. To ensure that female vaccinators stay engaged in this fight, it is essential to address the obstacles – whether physical security, social constraints, or low pay – that they confront.

Let us not forget that the risks these women take to protect everyone from a disease that has taken an enormous toll on global health. As a polio survivor, I simply cannot fathom the possibility that, with complete eradication in our sights, we might allow polio to return.

Since UNICEF began emphasizing the hiring of women for its polio program in 2014, the number of female vaccinators has increased dramatically. Nearly 62% of vaccinators in Nigeria are women. In Pakistan, the proportion of female vaccinators is 58%, and 30% in Afghanistan. As Aidan O’Leary, UNICEF’s chief of anti-polio efforts in Pakistan, has noted, “female vaccinators are driving every single operational gain that is being made.”

To be sure, female vaccinators are not the only ones immersed in this global fight. Religious and local leaders have played pivotal roles in building public understanding and engagement. Police and military personnel are sometimes needed to protect vaccinators from security threats. And, of course, political commitments at the highest levels have kept the momentum going.

But at the end of the day, women on the ground know their communities best, and are uniquely qualified to finish the job. Completing the last mile will require creativity and tenacity, and governments and donors should support the women who will get the world across the finish line, to a world with zero polio cases – forever.

Minda Dentler, a 2017 Aspen New Voices fellow, is a polio survivor and a global health advocate. In 2013, she became the first female wheelchair athlete to complete the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.

By Minda Dentler

Ellen warns against false passports

President Ellen Johnson -Sirleaf says reports are still emerging here about “false passports” that have not been officially issued, but are out in the hands of individuals, noting that she does not know where they are issued, how they are issued and who issues them.


While launching the Liberian Biometric E-passport at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Monrovia Friday, 4 August, Mrs. Sirleaf warned personnel at the Bureau of Passports and Visas that such act must stop.

“Not because of the loss of revenue, as important as that is, but because it gets into the hands of wrong people – criminals – thereby undermining the credibility and reputation of the country,” President Sirleaf warns.

The President further notes that bad reports are coming out against the Bureau of Passports and Visas, a section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that once got revamped under the watch of former passport director Madam Mary Broh.

“I hear it is slipping back again. Let me put you on warning; you are here to serve the people with honesty, integrity and efficiency,” Mrs. Sirleaf reminds personnel at the passport division.

She asks Foreign Minister Marjon Kamara to sit with the Bureau’s staff and hear from them too about their challenges, noting that maybe government needs to do more for them. “We need to hear some of your issues so we can address those issues in all fairness to you,” she says.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Marjon V. Kamara informed President Sirleaf that the launch of the international standardized E-Passport was another piece of the Ministry’s deliverables.

She discloses that plans are underway to have passport centers in South Africa and Ethiopia by the end of this year. A passport center is to shortly open in Beijing, People’s Republic of China, she adds.

“We are moving forward and we want to thank you for the opportunity of serving in your administration,” she informed the President. Giving the background of the new e-Passport and the opening of the Expedited Service Center, the Deputy Minister for Legal Affairs, Cllr. Deweh E. Gray informed President Sirleaf that the whole negotiating exercise with Buck Press Limited had been inter-agency collaboration including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice,

Liberia Revenue Authority, Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, National Security Agency, and others. Touching on the Expedited Application Service Center now established, she disclosed that applicants who are urgently in need of a passport can now come in and process their applications and pay an expedited service charge of US$50.00 in addition to the passport fee and be guaranteed same day delivery.

Applicants for the new E-Passport can also apply online at www.mofa.gov.lr. Since the introduction of the biometric passport, Liberian and foreign security operatives have easily detected all forgery attempts in the Liberian passport, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says.

President Sirleaf became the first recipient of the new travel document, having performed the official launch along with the opening of the Expedited Application Service Center at the Bureau of Passports and Visas, Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday.

Vote on performance

President Ellen Johnson - Sirleaf is urging electorates here, especially women, to vote based on the performance of candidates in the ensuing October 10 representatives and presidential elections.


“I’m not contesting again so I will stand with you, work with you in making sure that our women who have worked over the years be given the opportunity to serve and subsequently deliver to our people in their respective elective posts,” she said Tuesday, 1 August at the Capitol Building.Speaking at a Women Political Forum in Monrovia Tuesday afternoon, the Liberian leader enjoined Liberian women to campaign, use the available means and vote for candidates based on their past records.

Mrs. Sirleaf who is ending her second six years term in January 2018, has cautioned females here that voting politicians based on performance is a guarantee that they will perform at the Legislature or the Executive Mansion if given the opportunity by the Liberian people. President Sirleaf encourages electorate here to examine the performance of candidates, visit their communities, counties and see what they have done for the people, see whether they have supported community initiatives and ascertain if they have supported their people.She urges voters to give support to candidates who have done such works for their people on grounds that such works can help the Liberian women to close the wide gap between the men and the women.

Mrs. Sirleaf wants female voters to apply such evaluation method on newcomers in the process of elective posts, adding, once it is established that female contestants have passed these tests, then the rest of the other women should join hands in making sure that they win sufficient number of seats in the House of Representatives.

“This is our time”, Mrs. Sirleaf says, recalling the support of the Liberian women in 2005 that helped her to win the presidential elections on the ticket of the Unity Party (UP).
“I won because of the women on grounds that our women claimed that they wanted their own kind at the top. In 2011, though I won, but there’s a wide gap created and the gap currently exists at both the House of Representatives and the Liberian Senate at the Liberian Legislature. I need to close the gap drastically,” she adds.

In an effort to close such gap as recognized by Mrs. Sirleaf, she says it takes hard work, dedication and commitment on the part of every woman throughout the country and the strong backing from the candidates.She then challenges the women here to use the Jehovah Witness method by going from house to house and door to door to ensure that more women are elected in these elections.She urges the women to select the candidates who have worked, served and willing to serve the Liberian people if given the chance. By Bridgett Milton--Edited by Winston W. Parley

Don’t be engineers of violence

A young Liberian high school instructor at the Sister Shirley Kolmer Memorial Catholic School is urging fellow young people to say no to violence and avoid being used as engineers of violence as campaigns start here for the October elections.


Instructor Manual Zar urges told the NewDawn in an exclusive interview Tuesday, 1 August that young people should ensure that the upcoming elections are violence freed, expressing observation that the youths are always manipulated.

Mr. Zar says the youths are in majority and they therefore need to think and vote right, while staying away from violence. He cautions that violence helps to destroy the country that “we all” want to build.

He describes as strange, the politics in Liberia, arguing that politics here is more of self interest than national interest. “If many of our young people were gainfully employed, the rate of election violence will reduce”, he claims, and adds that violence must be avoided in these elections.

He also expresses concern that most of the presidential candidates are owning radio stations here, noting that he views it as a serious problem that have the tendency of instigating violence.
By Ethel A. Tweh--Edited by Winston W. Parley

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