When Timor-Leste (East Timor) suffered under the brutal Indonesian occupation from 1974 – 1999, Xanana Gusmao was the leader of the guerrilla independence forces in the island’s mountains. When the country gained independence and, in 2002, became the millennium’s first new democracy, Gusmao was the country’s first President. He now servers as Prime Minister and one of the young democracy’s Founding Fathers. He is currently in New York attending the opening of the UN General Assembly and adjacent meetings on global issues.
Our hearts go out to the people, governments and courageous healthcare workers in the three countries most devastated by the current Ebola outbreak: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. But our sympathies are not enough. The UN Secretary General has estimated it will cost USD $1 billion to combat the disease and the havoc it is wreaking across West Africa.
Let us be clear. This is not just a health crisis. The tragic death toll is compounded by the failure of weak state institutions that have buckled under the pressure, and have strained government service delivery. The economic impact is destabilising, ruining businesses, putting people out of work, and preventing families from putting food on tables. The combined humanitarian, social and economic stresses threaten peace and stability, and are unravelling many hard fought development gains of recent years.
This is an emergency of enormous scale, and we all have a moral obligation to stand shoulder to shoulder to ensure its swift conclusion. Especially, as we see time and again, it is the poorest and most vulnerable that are most at risk.
Timor-Leste has made a contribution of USD $1 million dollars in response to the UN Secretary General’s appeal for the international community to help. We have done so as an act of Fragile-to-Fragile and South-South cooperation. Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are fellow members of the g7+, a group of 20 fragile and conflict affected countries. We came together to support one another, and to advocate for reforms to the way the international community engages with us.
Our global response to this, the largest Ebola outbreak in history, must be twofold.
Firstly, we need the resources – money, people, equipment and expertise – to urgently curb the current outbreak, and treat those affected. Together, we must make every effort to help the people and governments swiftly get back on their feet. This includes immediately lifting all international travel bans, and restoring essential air and sea transport services.
Then let us stand together to support the necessary long-term development efforts that will help build resilience to future outbreaks of disease or other shocks. For this emergency serves as a stark reminder that all development shocks are amplified by existing vulnerabilities and development challenges.
Central to overcoming this will be a long-term commitment to support and build the capacity of the state to respond to the needs of its people. Capable and effective institutions are essential to ensure resilience in the face of development shocks, whether they manifest in the form of a health crisis, a financial crisis, the impacts of climate change, natural disasters, terrorism or the outbreak of conflict.
This is why Timor-Leste has advocated for the Post-2015 development agenda to include new sustainable development goals on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies and building effective and accountable institutions underpinned by the rule of law.
The nexus between peace and development is not new. It has been recognised in a number of international agreements, including the Millennium Declaration that gave rise to the Millennium Development Goals – the MDGs. What has been missing until now has been a means of implementing this principle through the international development framework. As we work towards replacing the MDGs next year, let us not miss this opportunity. For we know without peace there can be no sustainable development, and without development there can be no sustained peace.
In an increasingly complex and interconnected world, none of us can face our development challenges in isolation. The current Ebola crisis is not West Africa’s problem alone. It is in all of our interests to take immediate action now, and to sustain our support into the future.
I call on all world leaders to contribute to the immediate task of helping our brothers and sisters in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Then let us shake off our collective complacency with the imbalances that shape our existing international development trajectory. Let us prevent future tragedies like this from occurring by equipping our governments and people with the necessary development means to promote healthy, safe, peaceful and prosperous populations.