Even as reports from throughout Liberia, including some of the epi-centers of the deadly Ebola virus, say it is rapidly receding, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control are still making alarming and apocalyptic ‘predictions’ that Ebola will continue to spread by massive proportions well into January 2015.The question that readily comes to mind is, What are these two global organizations up to? After taking a full six months to respond to this deadly emergency in three West African countries where people were dropping dead in their thousands, WHO is still insisting that Ebola deaths could exceed 20,000.Pessimistically worse yet, the Atlanta-based United States government’s CDC says that between 500,000 and 1.4 million people may be infected by January. And now the British medical journal, The Lancet Infectious Diseases have just come out with another dreadful prediction, that “unless accelerated efforts to control the disease are made, the virus, by mid-December, will infect 171,000 and kill 90,000 people in Liberia alone.Are these grim predictions real? Are they a ploy to attract more world response against the epidemic, or are they designed for something else?When last week President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf visited Foya in Lofa County, where Ebola first broke out in Liberia from across the border in Guinea, there had been in the past three weeks NO new cases reported in Lofa. In addition, the Ebola Treatment Center in Foya was practically empty. In Ganta, Nimba County, which lost over a hundred people, reports are saying that there are no new cases there either, and that the death toll has diminished.Even in Monrovia, reports coming in to this newspaper say the cases are going down, and that most ETUs have limited occupancy. Our Senior Reporter Omari Jackson visited several communities around Monrovia, many of them badly affected slums, and reported that the people were in a thanksgiving mood because the number of infections and deaths were way down.Reporter Jackson said people were very upset that WHO and others were saying the reason the numbers in ETUs were down was that ‘infected’ people were staying away for fear of Ebola stigma and cremation. He said he found no one in the several communities visited who held that view. Many were upset with the WHO and CDC for giving these alarming predictions. The people interviewed by Reporter Jackson said that just as they were beginning to feel a welcome sense of relief, given the visible decline in the viral infections and deaths, these WHO and CDC predictions were causing them great discomfort and anxiety.Reporter Jackson discovered another highly positive development: people are religiously following all measures of prevention, including washing their hands, not touching one another or dead bodies and insisting that anyone suspected of any kind of infection is immediately sent away from the neighborhood and led to a center where that person can be tested. In other words, the people are no longer hiding their sick, but doing what they know they must do to fight the virus. So we expect corresponding encouragement from all the partners, including the international bodies.With the virus receding, it will be interesting to see what will happen in the 17 ETUs nearing completion by the American military contingent and by the Chinese and other partners. Reporter Jackson visited the latest one at the new Defense Ministry premises and found that there were so far no patients there.It is an historical fact that Liberia has never before faced a health crisis like this one. The WHO and CDC predictions, even as our people are responding robustly to the established preventive measures, have presented us with another very serious challenge: just as President Ellen Johnson said a week ago, we must REJECT these predictions by fighting with all our might to resist this virus and expel it from ourcountry and the Mano River basin.Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
A street scene in Hanoi: Under the new dispensation bicycles outnumber carsThe austere city of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, was host to a veteran Indian journalist last month, Pran Chopra, 61, visiting professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, was in Hanoi for eight days, as one,A street scene in Hanoi: Under the new dispensation bicycles outnumber carsThe austere city of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, was host to a veteran Indian journalist last month, Pran Chopra, 61, visiting professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, was in Hanoi for eight days, as one of Foreign Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s party. This was the second time that Chopra has been in Vietnam; in 1945 he had spent over a year in the region as a war correspondent for All India Radio (AIR), covering China, Indo-China, Thailand, Burma and the Indian north-east. During that time Chopra often had long conversations with Ho Chi Minh, the legendary father of Vietnamese nationalism.Between 1945 and 1982, Chopra has had an illustrious innings in journalism spanning four decades. He was chief news editor at AIR, editorial director of the Press Foundation of Asia and Editor of The Statesman. In this report, he documents the changes and the present character of Hanoi and the Vietnamese.In basic outward appearance, Hanoi still looks like the city it was when I first saw it in 1945, at the time of the Viet Minh revolution. Revisiting it now, with Foreign Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, I rejoiced to see that at least outwardly all the landmarks I remembered had been left untouched by the war or had recovered from it. Hotel Metropole still stand, under the new name of Hotel Reunification which it acquired in 1976; I had spent several memorable weeks in it 37 years ago.Around it still stand all the main buildings which had then constituted the heart of French colonial Hanoi as distinct from the older, native city a short distance away. To the right and rear of the hotel, the Opera House still overlooks the large public square in which I had witnessed some thunderous rallies of the Viet Minh Front a few days before Vietnam proclaimed itself independent.advertisementCheerful chiidren playing cards: Simple amusementsIn front of the hotel is the historic building, seat of the French administration in Hanoi till 1945, which Ho Chi Minh took over as the seat of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Vietnam. In it I had spent hours in conversation with him, his diminutive frame hidden behind a table too large for him, only his face peeping over it – the face of a philosopher who enjoys his reputation as an uncle with a puckish sense of humour. The total modesty of his style – a coat frayed at the collar, a pair of trousers often washed but never pressed, a sola pith hat which was once white, and bare feet in flip-flop rubber chappals – made a mockery of the aloof style of the colonial architecture around him.Simplicity: This time I saw him embalmed and still, in an imposing black mausoleum built by the Russians, and I wondered what he would say if he ever saw himself there, because when I met him in New Delhi after he had been to see Rajghat, he said with feeling: “This memorial to Gandhi is as beautiful in its simplicity as Gandhi himself.” Much more in character with Ho Chi Minh is the nearby house in which he lived; very simple, and made beautiful by its proportions and regard for orderliness.Behind the mausoleum is a large tree – once a sapling he brought from India – and all around is Ba Dinh, an enormous empty space once, but now paved with stone and landscaped, where in September 1945 Ho Chi Minh read the Proclamation Of Independence at the largest public meeting I have seen outside India.The writing of the proclamation was itself an act typical of Ho Chi Minh. He wrote it by hand and then typed it himself, squatting on the floor in the backyard of an inconspicuous house in the Vietnamese part of Hanoi, taking forty winks in between on a wooden bench. At that time he was still underground. A day or so later he surfaced, and this had an electrifying effect on the Vietnamese population, although the effect weakened as one moved from the native city to the graceful, shady, broad, well-proportioned boulevards and avenues of the French quarter.These roads are still as beautiful as they were earlier. Perhaps more so, because the trees are forty years older, taller and more stately. Most buildings on either side are still very elegant in an unpretentious kind of way, and it was delightful recalling how chic it all was despite the three years or so of Japanese occupation.advertisementBut the place which was once famous for its beauty, and later for the deathless heroism of its people, has now been forgotten by the world. Everything betrays this fact. A country which was so much on the front pages in every capital is rarely heard of now. Fewer airlines fly to it in a week than fly in a day to each of the three cities which surround Vietnam in a triangle – Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong.The airport of Hanoi is like an abandoned barracks. The arrival hall would be too humble for an ordinary school. The departure lounge is of framed mats and cracking plywood. Access to the town is over a 2 km-long bridge which miraculously hangs together but cannot do much more. The few lorries and buses which pass over it are rusty hulks with spluttering engines which often fail and block the narrow bridge.Emptiness: The commercial quarter of the city is drab in any season, but more so in Hanoi’s very cold and grey winter. Nothing remains of the styles of France it sported once. There are fewer cars on the roads than in any suburb of New Delhi. Most of them are either diplomatic or governmental; and if the latter, they are invariably of Russian make.The buildings are run down, because though care is taken the money required for their proper upkeep is hard to spare. Some have been occupied, in an empty sort of way, by the form-filling bureaucracy of a socialist state. Some have been equipped with the modest amenities provided by a socialist state which has yet to make a go of it.Privately run establishments are not much more lively. Restaurants wait emptily for customers, drapers wait for both customers and cloth. Consumer goods stores have more consumers than goods, and such goods as they have – are tawdry. Things give the impression that time passes but nothing ever changes.There is a greater bustle of people in the older and more Vietnamese part of Hanoi: long bazaars of small shops, lines of pavement vendors in their conical hats of ‘nons’ and an unending stream of bicycle traffic. There are probably more bicycles here per hundred of population than anywhere else in the world.Most of them are of an older vintage than anywhere except in an Indian village, because even a middle-ranking civil servant would need his full salary for two years to be able to buy a new cycle. But the bicycle carries all manner of things, and it claims and gets the right of the way over everything – pedestrians, cars, crowded buses and trams. Only acrobatic children get the better of it!But in the Vietnamese part of the city too, commercial life is of the most elementary kind. In few shops are there goods worth more than a couple of thousand rupees. Most vendors carry only small head or hand baskets with things worth no more than a score of rupees or so. What would any of these people think if they saw the burgeoning supermarkets of other South-east Asian capitals? This is further evidence that the tide of commerce which has swept through the rest of that region has only pushed Hanoi further to the sidelines of the region’s economy.advertisementEgalitarian Society: But there is a third aspect of life in Hanoi which takes longer to come into focus than either the state of its commerce or the still surviving beauty of the old French administrative quarter. And, this aspect displays the better face of socialism. There is almost total absence of any great disparities – and this does not mean that everyone has been levelled down; there is a great deal of levelling up as well.My own attention was drawn sharply to this aspect, unintentionally, by a man who seemed to be complaining that Vietnam was sliding away from socialism. Trying to substantiate this charge he said: “Look at it even now. Some people cannot afford even bicycles while others ride about on motorcycles.” His scale of disparities was wholly unrelated to what happens elsewhere, and he gave more evidence of this.He is a middle-level government employee and has a basic salary of just under 300’dongs’, which is roughly equal to Rs 300. That puts him at just about the middle of the salary spread in government service, where the lowest salary (and this is the minimum wage everywhere and it is enforced) is about 160 dongs and the highest is just over twice as much. Beyond the salary come certain perks at very senior levels, such as an office car.But his grouse was that some people paid 5 per cent of their salaries as house rent while others had to pay only 2 or 3 per cent! Then we talked about entertainment, such as taking a friend out for dinner. “A modestly good meal would cost us 10 dongs per head, but a really good one such as a successful merchant may buy would cost 60 or 70 dongs.” How rich would this rich merchant be? “A good one can make 5,000 dongs a month.”This absence of excessive riches at the upper level, plus the government’s pricing policies for essentials explains why a dong goes much further in Hanoi than a rupee does in New Delhi. There are some aberrations at both the lowest and highest ends of the pricing range, like a house for less than five rupees a month! These are unhealthy, and the Government is now grappling with them. But a durable aspect of Vietnamese socialism is that Hanoi shows none of the glaring contrasts between extreme riches and extreme poverty which mar the glamour – so popular with tourists – of almost every other Asian capital.Wholesome Life-styles: There is some begging, but very little, being entirely limited to the very aged or disabled, and there also the begging bowl is concealed as a basket containing odds and ends for sale. Hardly any ill health is seen on the street, and when it is, it goes more with age than poverty. Totally absent are two scourges of city life in most places: delinquent youth and vagrant children.Hanoi has more than its measure of the two ‘opposites’, mostly seen in socialist societies: clean and good behaviour among young people and good health and bursting cheerfulness among children. Their amusements are simple, inexpensive and clean and comprise very full sources of fun for them without becoming causes of urban problems, as they certainly are in most South-east Asian cities, the more so in the nearest one, Bangkok.Hardly ever is a very well dressesd woman seen in Hanoi, and fewer still are attired expensively. In that respect too, life on the boulevards of Hanoi has certainly been toned down from what it was.The human condition seems to be good in the countryside as well. Visibly, life in the villages along the roads is almost uniformly healthy, perhaps more than in Hanoi. Signs of prosperity are even fewer than in Hanoi, but the welfare average seems higher, and probably higher than in the villages of some of the richer countries of this region.Be it in the capital or in the villages: the dominant impression which even a brief visit provides is that Vietnam – can and intends to – build its future upon an ample supply of good manpower, positive in its outlook, of healthy physique, of orderly behaviour and discipline and uncorrupted as yet by the social symptoms which are sweeping through the rest of South-east Asia in the wake of brilliantly successful commercialism.It is true that there are some weaknesses creeping in here and there. Problems of staying power may arise if food shortages are not remedied soon. There are signs of lethargy and unconcern at lower levels of administration. But these are as yet only pimples on the smooth surface of Vietnam’s largest asset: its manpower, which has a capacity to suffer without losing resolve.INDO-VIETNAMESE RELATIONS: TIES ACROSS THE OCEAN Vietnam has made it as plain as it can that it desires a very close relationship with India, both economic and political. Closer than it has with any country outside the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, (Comecon).This was explicitly said during the Indian Foreign Minister Narasimha Rao’s recent visit to Vietnam, and was made even plainer by the unreserved warmth of the reception accorded him. On his part, Rao also became more forthcoming than India has been of late. He announced some economic assistance on the spot and promised some more.In a far-reaching move, the two sides also agreed that instead of ad hoc steps, as hitherto, a long-term plan of across-the-board assistance should be drawn up on the basis of a report on Vietnam’s needs. The report is being prepared by a team India sent there under the very competent leadership of G.V.K. Rao, a former secretary to the Indian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Reconstruction.The economic reasons for Vietnam desiring such closeness with India are evident. The simplest and most compelling is that a country which has suffered such utter devastation for so long needs help from all the sources it can tap-and Vietnam can tap only a few. The US, which broke all records in raining destruction upon Vietnam, has not only refused the assistance it (in Hanoi’s eyes) had promised; it has also applied every diplomatic pressure it can to prevent its friends, allies and international aid agencies from helping Vietnam.China has used not only diplomatic pressure but military onslaughts, too, for disrupting Vietnam’s economic recovery. Vietnam’s neighbours in the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) have also suspended economic relations – either, as Hanoi sees it, because of these pressures or, as they claim, because of their opposition to the “invasion” of Kampuchea.That leaves Vietnam with only the Comecon as a major source of aid which in fact, means the Soviet Union. Cuba is too far away. Many East European allies have their own problems, and Hanoi is daily reminded of this by a huge railway workshop on the outskirts of the city which Poland started to build but has not been able to complete.Of the West Europeans, Sweden has been steadily generous and bold in resisting American pressure, and now France is stepping in to some extent. But the others are lukewarm. So is Japan. That only leaves India, and Vietnam turns to her in very obvious need.Test Case: In fact Vietnam wants India to be the foremost non-communist source, because it believes India’s help would be very apt. Vietnam’s foremost needs are in agriculture and rail transportation, and India’s experience and resources are the most relevant, apart from being nearest.Vietnam also thinks India’s help can be a test case of South-South cooperation, for two reasons: unlike many developing countries, Vietnam has consciously opted for less advanced technology for its industrialisation, partly because it lacks the money for the more advanced technology and partly because it realises it can absorb the less advanced kind more cost-effectively. Secondly, of all Third World countries opting for Third World help, Vietnam has the most highly motivated population, an important assest for the more labour intensive technologies that India can offer.There are also some political reasons for seeking an Indian connection. Vietnam hotly denies any differences with Moscow, but surely realises that if it were not seen as wholly dependent upon Russia its relations with Asean neighbours might become less difficult.More important, India is a good bridgehead with the Third World and the non-aligned – perhaps also with Asean on the Kampuchea question. Of all countries which have recognised Kampuchea, India is the least unpopular with Asean. Those which have not recognised it are, of course, not popular with Vietnam.But what is in the deal for India? Two fears are expressed by some. One is that for many years Vietnam will only receive, not give,and a poor country like India cannot afford that. Second, Asean’s displeasure will cost India more than Vietnam’s goodwill is worth. There is substance in both fears, but they are exaggerated.Potential Power: Anything can happen of course, but the greater likelihood is that Vietnam is going to be an important power factor in South-east Asia, and one fairly congenial to the overall pursuance of Indian foreign policy both in this region as well as globally. On the other hand, the collapse of Vietnam is not in India’s interests (nor in Asean’s, as some members of this group recognise).Therefore, India’s enlightened self-interest advocates some help for Vietnam as it struggles to get out of its present difficulties, especially economic ones. An important question for India is, of course, whether this would harm India’s economic interests within Asean, which are at least as important.The Asean countries have always had only those economic relations with India which make good economic sense to them. This has been so for two good reasons. One is that India has never had the kind of political closeness with the West which would persuade the Asean countries to give some political backing to economic relations with India, or which would persuade the West to use its leverage with Asean in India’s favour. The second is that India does not have such political clout with Asean that it may use it to promote its economic interests.On the other hand, with Indo-China states you can only have economic relations to the extent that they harmonise with the political. The best thing for India would be that relations between the Asean and Indo-China groups are such that India can safely have good relations with both.
President of the Senate, Hon. Tom Tavares-Finson, has extended condolences to the Governments and citizens of regional countries that have been severely impacted by recent natural disasters. President of the Senate, Hon. Tom Tavares-Finson, has extended condolences to the Governments and citizens of regional countries that have been severely impacted by recent natural disasters.“Since we (Senate) last met, the Caribbean, and in particular our brethren in Dominica, have suffered tremendously (from) Hurricane Maria…(while) our brethren in Cuba (were affected by Hurricane Irma). Indeed, (other) Caribbean (states have) not fared so well because the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Puerto Rico have also suffered tremendous damage,” he said.Senator Tavares-Finson noted that the Government has reached out to the administrations and people of the affected territories, pointing out that “we are, of course, particularly concerned (about) Dominica and Prime Minister (Roosevelt) Skerrit, who is a friend of Jamaica.”“While we count our blessings, our neighbours have not been so lucky and, of course, we make mention of the Mexican earthquake and (acknowledge) that the damage and loss of lives could have been much more serious had the Mexicans not taken the threat of earthquakes very seriously, and practised regular earthquake drills (among other disaster preparedness measures),” he added.In this regard, the Senate President urged Jamaicans to be more proactive in their awareness of the potential danger and threats posed by hurricanes, earthquakes and other extreme natural occurrences, and in their overall approach to disaster preparedness.“We in Jamaica sort of skip along thinking that (these incidents) can’t happen here, ignoring our history (in the process). We certainly need to begin to look more closely at our disaster preparedness (and not) ignore it and (behave) as if nothing can happen,” he emphasized.Meanwhile, Government Senator Don Wehby, said the private sector was coordinating relief efforts for the affected countries and urged members not involved to support the endeavour. Senator Tavares-Finson noted that the Government has reached out to the administrations and people of the affected territories, pointing out that “we are, of course, particularly concerned (about) Dominica and Prime Minister (Roosevelt) Skerrit, who is a friend of Jamaica.” “Since we (Senate) last met, the Caribbean, and in particular our brethren in Dominica, have suffered tremendously (from) Hurricane Maria…(while) our brethren in Cuba (were affected by Hurricane Irma). Indeed, (other) Caribbean (states have) not fared so well because the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Puerto Rico have also suffered tremendous damage,” Senator Tavares-Finson said. Story Highlights