The recent, devastating Ebola crisis reminded the world of a hard truth: Pandemics are not just a threat to human health, they are a threat to societies and economies. That there will be another pandemic is not a question of “if,” but a question of “when.” A catastrophe on the scale of the 1918 flu epidemic could conceivably wipe out all development gains of the last century. We recognize this, but, still we are unprepared.
Too often, the conventional wisdom in diplomatic or scientific circles is that the general public doesn't know what's good for them when it comes to foreign policy or tackling global threats. It's too complicated, the experts say; the public wouldn't understand. Yet new polling suggests that many in the public understand very well how global infectious disease outbreaks pose a serious threat to their lives and economic security - and they know what should be done about it.
SENDAI, Japan – Without better preparation for disasters – whether they be earthquakes and tidal waves, extreme weather events, or future pandemics – we put lives and economies at risk. We also have no chance to be the first generation in human history that can end extreme poverty.
Just a few days ago, the world was again reminded of our vulnerability to disasters, after Tropical Cyclone Pam, one of the most powerful storms ever to make landfall, devastated the islands of Vanuatu. Some reports found that as much as 90 percent of the housing in Port Vila was badly damaged. When the cyclone hit, I was in Sendai for the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, which took place only a few days after the fourth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. That quake and subsequent tsunami tragically resulted in more than 15,000 deaths and caused an estimated $300 billion in damage.
Most people are aware of Ebola's devastating impact on human health. To date, over 22,800 people have been infected and 9,000 have died. Its effects on West Africa's economy have also been well-documented. According to recent World Bank estimates, Ebola will cause at least US$ 1.6 billion in lost economic growth in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2015.
In a couple of days, I’ll join leaders from the worlds of business, governments, politics, arts, and academia at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The Forum is one of the premier events for discussing global risks. Many if not most of these risks are identified in the Forum’s annual Global Risks report.
It’s been a difficult year for the people of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and all those fighting to end the terrible Ebola epidemic that took thousands of lives, spread fear and destabilized economies. Though the global response to this crisis was too slow, at year’s end, there are hopeful signs that international mobilization is having an impact, and that the countries most affected by the disease are coalescing around the goal of “zero cases.”
As we close the chapter on 2014, which is likely to be remembered in history as the “year of Ebola,” it is worth drawing some initial lessons for the future.
Today, the World Bank Group and the governments of Canada, Norway, and the United States announced that they will jumpstart the creation of an innovative Global Financing Facility to mobilize support for developing countries’ plans to accelerate progress on the health-related Millennium Development Goals and bring an end to preventable maternal and child deaths by 2030. Watch the video blog below for more on my thoughts about this exciting announcement.
A new World Bank Group analysis finds that if the Ebola epidemic continues to surge in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, its economic impact could deal a catastrophic blow to the already fragile countries. However, swift national and international responses can limit the costs. Listen to World Bank Group President Jim Kim discuss the Ebola crisis and response in the video above, or read his latest post on LinkedIn.
This week’s links highlight the 500-day countdown to the MDG deadline, global response to #Ebola and the push towards universal health coverage. Each Friday, we share a selection of global health Tweets, infographics, blog posts, videos and more. Follow us @worldbankhealth.