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Jihad And Ebola, A Double Threat To The African Miracle

In Monrovia, Liberia
In Monrovia, Liberia
Daniel Bastien


PARIS — A decade after development began in earnest on the "continent of lions" — the result of vast riches in raw materials, and of Africa embracing globalization — the countries from the northern sub-Saharan Sahel region and large parts of central Africa are facing a double threat.

Over the past few weeks, panic over Ebola has replaced months of indifference and carelessness. At the same time, the spectacular ISIS advances in Iraq have shed a worrying light on the violence of armed Islamist groups in Africa.

What does this double crisis in Africa tell us? First of all, the arc of current health and security problems covers weak states. The threats are hitting hardest those that are struggling to face the rebellions and those — led by Liberia and Sierra Leone — in which authorities lack resources and the ability to organize a minimal quarantine to slow the spread of the virus.

The strong economic growth of Liberia and Sierra Leone over the last few years hasn't been enough for the countries to make up for decades of underdevelopment — not just in health care, but also in education, an essential factor in the evolution of cultural habits and social behaviors. Because it is wealthier and more organized, Senegal has fared much better.

But the dramatic events in these regions are telling us something else too, namely that "it's ridiculous to consider Africa as a single country. Would we say that of Europe?" asks Thierry Vircoulon, director of the Central Africa project at the International Crisis Group. There is a world of difference between the isolated countries of the Sahel or Central African Republic, and dynamic countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia or Zambia.

The economic question

Is the durability of the African growth miracle in question? Nobody wants to underestimate the risks that the crises carry for the continent. Some say that the effects of Ebola on the worst-hit countries are "more severe than a coup d’état." Their growth prospects, very encouraging until now, have already been revised down, and there are fears that the epidemic might create a diversion for victims of other diseases such as malaria.

The French Development Agency expects a "spillover effect on the budgets of neighboring countries that are taking precautionary measures." In Senegal, for example, "the shock could be irreversible if tourists leave," says Diery Seck, director of the Center for Research on Political Economy (CREPOL) in Dakar. He is also worried by the absence of a common risk management strategy and health coordination inside the Economic Community Of West African States, one of the best integrated organizations in Africa.

Meanwhile, World Bank officials believe that the "panic reaction fed by the fear of contagion" represents the real danger, more than the direct cost of Ebola.

But all experts are cautious about the risks on African development. "The growth of African economies is happening in an extremely chaotic context," explains Jean-Michel Severino, former CEO of the French Development Agency. "The growth of around 5% for the last 10 years will remain significant, but it will be fickle and will vary from country to country, insufficient to quickly bring the populations out of poverty and end political volatility without new structural changes. This will take a long time, and there's still work to be done."

Over and over again, experts point to Africa's great capacity for "resilience." After all, it has been living for decades with the ravages of HIV and virtually forever with malaria, which kills close to 600,000 Africans each year. What's more, Africa now has solid systems in place to combat these problems.

African economies have benefitted form debt write-offs, and they enjoy good trading conditions for their raw materials. They are also more diversified, fed as they are by an ever-growing global demand and an urban middle class that creates new markets. "Investors differ from one country to another, which minimizes the risks of contagion," says Patrick Raleigh, associate director at Standard & Poor’s.

Politically, "the risk of conflicts in Africa is today weaker than it was 20 years ago," says Philippe Hugon, research director at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations in Paris.

And despite undeniable shortcomings, the countries' foundations have been spectacularly shaken up over the last decade in terms of democracy, fallen dictatorships and varying governances, says Pierre Jacquemot, also a researcher at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations.

Philippe Lévêque, director of the NGO Care France, holds a relatively optimistic view: Although Ebola "undermines the social and economic bases of the affected communities," it should not affect the rest of the continent.

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The Problem With Always Blaming Climate Change For Natural Disasters

Climate change is real, but a closer look at the science shows there are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters. It is important to raise awareness about the long-term impact of global warming, but there's a risk in overstating its role in the latest floods or fires.

People on foot, on bikes, motorcycles, scooters and cars navigate through a flooded street during the day time.

Karachi - People wade through flood water after heavy rain in a southern Pakistani city

Xinhua / ZUMA
Axel Bojanowski


BERLIN — In September, thousands of people lost their lives when dams collapsed during flooding in Libya. Engineers had warned that the dams were structurally unsound.

Two years ago, dozens died in floods in western Germany, a region that had experienced a number of similar floods in earlier centuries, where thousands of houses had been built on the natural floodplain.

Last year saw more than 1,000 people lose their lives during monsoon floods in Pakistan. Studies showed that the impact of flooding in the region was exacerbated by the proximity of human settlements, the outdated river management system, high poverty rates and political instability in Pakistan.

There are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters, but one dominates the headlines: climate change. That is because of so-called attribution studies, which are published very quickly after these disasters to highlight how human-caused climate change contributes to extreme weather events. After the flooding in Libya, German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described climate change as a “serial offender," while the Tageszeitung wrote that “the climate crisis has exacerbated the extreme rainfall."

The World Weather Attribution initiative (WWA) has once again achieved its aim of using “real-time analysis” to draw attention to the issue: on its website, the institute says its goal is to “analyse and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events." Frederike Otto, who works on attribution studies for the WWA, says these reports help to underscore the urgent need for climate action. They transform climate change from an “abstract threat into a concrete one."

In the immediate aftermath of a weather-related disaster, teams of researchers rush to put together attribution studies – “so that they are ready within the same news cycle," as the New York Times reported. However, these attribution studies do not meet normal scientific standards, as they are published without going through the peer-review process that would be undertaken before publication in a specialist scientific journal. And that creates problems.

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