Acorn Ideas

Issue No. 37, June 2015

Written by: our Liberian partner, Earthtime, in collaboration with Acorn International

A Community Look-back on Ebola

An April article in the New England Journal of Medicine1 highlights lessons learned from the West Africa ebola crisis, but it does not take into account the valuable lessons or opportunities for improvement related to local communities.

What could the affected communities do differently next time? What role did cultural norms play in inhibiting or helping communities combat the spread of this disease? And how important might the understanding of local mores (i.e., values, beliefs and behaviors that help define and direct a cultural group) be in minimizing the threat of the next major epidemic? We asked our long-time Liberian partner and friend for his thoughts:

“As a Liberian, I know for a fact that Liberians prefer the rule of law and are willing to comply with serious measures to protect their lives and maintain a decent livelihood. In general, the public was relatively quick in responding to basic safety measures such as placing chlorine buckets at entrances of public or private facilities, and washing their hands prior to entering those facilities. In Liberia, and I guess in any other part of the world, dealing with such an endemic disease cannot be from the government side alone and without the support of communities/people. I think there is no doubt and I believe no one in Liberia doubts that the spread of ebola could have been stopped without the interference or the collaboration of both the government and international aid from one side with various communities on the other. The question should be, whether the availability of adequate healthcare facilities, trained experts as well as advanced laboratories could have stopped the spread of Ebola or not.”

Social networking positively influenced the prevention of the spread of ebola, but I doubt the effect of this was major, mainly due to the fact that access to internet is limited to urbanized areas and is very limited in remote areas - ebola ground zero. It was difficult for people to let go of their cultural behaviors at early stages of the ebola crisis. Awareness efforts could have influenced the fact that many communities were convinced that skipping certain ritual practices in the burial process (especially those that could transmit the disease)2 is important or could have a relevant role in preventing the spread of ebola.

Although it is possible to say that Liberians have gained certain perceptions about some of their cultural practices during the ebola crisis, it should remain a fact that those practices evolved over a long period of time and represent a link to their ancestors. Their willingness to temporarily suspend such practices for the sake of ebola prevention does not necessarily mean Liberians will permanently forgo ancestral practices.

If anything can be done to improve community-level actions to stop epidemics, it should be with the understanding that cultural behaviors are designed or put in place for a certain reason, such as human adaptations to the surrounding physical environment. Cultural practices could also represent human’s response to satisfy spiritual or emotional needs and the link of humanity to its past.

Initiatives for improving the containment of epidemics by changing cultural behaviors should take these challenges into consideration and clearly reveal that managing or altering such behaviors should be secondary to providing better living conditions. They should be able to reveal that Ebola is a “new” threat to which communities must adapt to by eliminating or establishing new practices for the well-being of community members and for Liberians in general. This could be a complicated process that will definitely require wide coverage and detailed consultations with spiritual, religious, government, and community leaders. This process should be coupled with significant improvement in the livelihood of Liberians, such as providing better healthcare services or other services that impact the daily lives of people.

In our work worldwide, we are continually reminded that, oftentimes, the best solutions to social risks come from within the affected countries and communities, and as international experts, one of our most important strengths are the ability to listen, filter and learn. Our thoughts and best wishes are with the Liberian people as they strive to overcome another major setback in improving living conditions in their communities and country.

Acorn International LLC delivers social and environmental risk management consulting services to the extractive industries and investors worldwide. We work with local partners in over 80 countries worldwide. Use of these local specialists is paramount, particularly in developing countries, where information is often scarce, second-hand, and unreliable. We look forward to engaging in continuous improvement for the industry and building capacity with our partners.



Issue 36 -Ghana and the Voluntary Principles: Implementing the Human Rights Protection Framework
Issue 35 -Inundation
Issue 34 -Colombia: Local Hiring Requirement for O&G Industry
Issue 33 -Mature and Frontier Mining Geographies: Where does Greater Risk (and Reward) Reside?
Issue 32 -Local Content in Mining: Increasing Expectations and Potential Solutions
Issue 31 -Fast Money Beware: Non-Technical Risk Due Diligence
Issue 30 -Social and Environmental Performance - Considerations for Difficult Commodity Price Environments
Issue 29 -A Window into the Opposing View - Stakeholder Concerns about Oil and Gas in Mexico
Issue 28 -Why Non-Technical Risks Matter to the Mexican Apertura
Issue 27 -Equator Principles:Drivers of Sustainability in the Oil and Gas Industry?
Issue 26 -The Transparency Tightrope: Examining UNEP’s New Access to Information Policy
Issue 25 -July 2014: Bouston
Issue 24 - July 2014: Land Tenure and Property Rights - Where Legal Compliance May Not Be Enough
Issue 23 - May 2014: 3 Things I Learned in Mexico - Non-technical Risks in the Oil Industry
Issue 22 - April 2014: Capacity Building on Stakeholder Engagement
Issue 21 - March 2014: Above-ground Facilities and Stakeholder Engagement: Deploying the 'CAC'
Issue 20 - March 2014: A Starting Point for Shared Equity
Issue 19 - March 2014: What It Takes to Run a Great Consulting Firm
Issue 18 - February 2014: Considering Human Rights - Trends and Lessons in Oil and Gas Impact Assessments
Issue 17 - June 2013: Managing Environmental Health in International Development Projects
Issue 16 - January 2013: Integrating Environmental and Social Performance throughout the Project Lifecycle
Issue 15 - January 2013: The State of Shale Play in 2013
Issue 14 - August 2012: Building Environmental and Social Governance in Host Countries
Issue 13 - May 2012: Human Rights and Business: A New Era
Issue 12 - February 2012: Extractive Industries Confront Pressure for Greater Transparency
Issue 11 - January 2012: Key Updates to the IFC Sustainability Policy and Performance Standards
Issue 10 - June 2011: Oil & Gas and NGOs: New Rules of Engagement?
Issue 9 - February 2010: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 8 - January 2009: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 7 - May 2008: Top Ten Lessons Learned About Health Impact Assessment
Issue 6 - January 2008: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 5 - September 2007: Results of web forum with our International Partners
Issue 4 - January 2007: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 3 - May 2006: Suggestions and tips for safe international travel
Issue 2 - January 2006: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 1 - November 2005: The Top 10 “unspoken" criteria for determining the success of EIAs


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