TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 26

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Al-Shabaab is stronger a year after their horrific attack on a mall in Kenya, thriving on widespread resentment of Kenyan anti-Muslim policies which must be reformed.

By the International Crisis Group

2. The unnecessary separation of oral care from the rest of medical care under Medicaid puts the poor at risk of worse health and even death.

By Olga Khazan in the Atlantic

3. In these views from activists and intellectuals in Syria, we see rueful themes of a hijacked revolution and an intervention that may be coming too late.

By Danny Postel in Dissent

4. Adding a way to assess learning for students is the key to making education games work for schools.

By Lee Banville in Games and Learning

5. The toothless early warning system designed to head off future financial crises must be strengthened or it risks missing the next market cataclysm.

By the Editors of Bloomberg View

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

Watchdog: French Hostage Killed by Extremists

(PARIS) — Algerian extremists allied with the Islamic State group have decapitated a French hostage after France ignored their demand to stop airstrikes in Iraq, according to a video released by a U.S. terrorism watchdog.

A group calling itself Jund al-Khilafah said after abducting Herve Gourdel on Sunday that he would be killed within 24 hours unless France ended its airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq.

The French government has insisted it will not back down. It would not immediately comment on the beheading video.

Terrorism watchdog SITE Intelligence Group distributed a video by Jund al-Khilafah Wednesday announcing Gourdel’s death.

Gourdel was a 55-year-old mountaineering guide from Nice seized in mountains of northern Algeria.

The video resembled those showing the beheadings of two American journalists and a British aid worker in recent weeks, but instead of showing President Barack Obama, it showed French President Francois Hollande.

France started airstrikes in Iraq on Friday, the first country to join the U.S. military campaign against the Islamic State fighters there.

“Our values are at stake,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Wednesday after hearing about the video. He would not comment further, but minutes earlier he insisted that France would continue fighting in Iraq as long as necessary.

TIME Infectious Disease

There Could Be 20,000 Ebola Cases by November if More Isn’t Done Now

Ebola Lessons
Nurses train to use Ebola protective gear with World Health Organization, WHO, workers, in Freetown, Sierra Leone on Sept. 18, 2014. Michael Duff—AP

Public-health experts warn that the epidemic could turn from “a disaster into a catastrophe”

A new study by the World Health Organization released on Tuesday warned of 20,000 Ebola cases worldwide in just over a month’s time if authorities failed to ramp up efforts to combat the growing epidemic.

“We estimate that, at the current rate of increase, assuming no changes in control efforts, the cumulative number of confirmed and probable cases by November 2 will be 5,740 in Guinea, 9,890 in Liberia, and 5,000 in Sierra Leone, exceeding 20,000 cases in total,” read the report published in the New England Journal of Medicine this week.

The Ebola virus is spread primarily through exposure to body fluids of symptomatic patients. Transmission of the virus is prevented through early diagnosis, contact tracing, patient isolation and infection control along with the safe burial of those killed by Ebola.

However, the virus has primarily hit impoverished West African communities, where many of these protocols are difficult or impossible to enforce.

“If we don’t stop the epidemic very soon, this is going to turn from a disaster into a catastrophe,” Christopher Dye, a co-author of the study and director of strategy at the WHO, told reporters in Geneva. “The fear is that Ebola will become more or less a permanent feature of the human population.”

The publication of the new report comes as Sierra Leone concluded an ambitious lockdown of the country for three days by effectively asking its 6 million residents to stay at home while approximately 30,000 volunteers and health officials canvassed the country to distribute soap and instructions on how to prevent contraction of the virus.

There are currently 5,833 recorded cases of Ebola across six African nations. The disease has killed at least 2,833 people.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 19

1. China should match its massive investment in Africa with robust support for the Ebola fight.

By James Gibney in Bloomberg View

2. The market alone can’t drive advances in biomedical science. Philanthropy has a role.

By David Panzirer in Wired

3. Far from radical, the new USA Freedom Act protects citizens from government spying with better oversight and less secrecy.

By Mary McCarthy in USA Today

4. Outdated laws on debt collection and wage garnishment are crushing the working poor.

By Paul Kiel in ProPublica and Chris Arnold at National Public Radio

5. Scotlands referendum was a reassuring exercise in the ‘majesty of democracy.’

By Michael Ignatieff in the Financial Times

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Infectious Disease

Watch How Ebola Has Spread Across West Africa

 

As of September 16, the World Health Organization has reported 4,985 infections of Ebola across six countries, resulting in 2,496 deaths.

This map shows the path of the disease’s outbreak, as recorded by the World Health Organization beginning March 23, 2014. Data from last week shows the disease spreading in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 62 cases and 35 deaths are reported.

With reporting from Becca Staneck.

 

This article was originally published on August 8.

TIME White House

U.S. to Commit $500 Million, Deploy 3,000 Troops in Ebola Fight

On Tuesday, President Obama will announce more efforts by the U.S. to lead a global battle against the spread of the deadly virus

Updated at 4:34 p.m. ET

The United States is dramatically escalating its efforts to combat the spread of Ebola in West Africa, President Barack Obama announced Tuesday, during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The unprecedented response will include the deployment of 3,000 U.S. military forces and more than $500 million in defense spending drawn from funding normally used for efforts like the war in Afghanistan, senior administration officials outlined Monday. Obama has called America’s response to the disease a “national-security priority,” with top foreign policy and defense officials leading the government’s efforts.

The officials said Obama believes that in order to best contain the disease, the U.S. must “lead” the global response effort. In the CDC’s largest deployment in response to an epidemic, more than 100 officials from the agency are currently on the ground and $175 million has been allocated to West Africa to help combat the spread of Ebola. Those efforts will be expanded with the assistance of U.S. Africa Command, which will deploy logistics, command and control, medical, and engineering resources to affected countries.

Officials said that the Department of Defense is seeking to “reprogram” $500 million in funding from the department’s “overseas contingency operations” fund to assist in the response. Obama has also requested another $88 million from Congress for the U.S. response, including $58 million to expedite the development of experimental treatments for Ebola.

The Pentagon will deliver 130,000 sets of personal protective equipment, thousands of kits used to test for the disease, two additional mobile lab units (one is already on the ground), and a 25-bed mobile hospital to the region. In addition, Africa Command engineers will construct additional treatment units, while the others set up a training center for to educate up to 500 health workers per week. The United States Agency for International Development will also airlift tens of thousands of home health kits and protection kits, including disinfectants and protective equipment, to be delivered to communities affected by the outbreak.

The U.S. effort, named Operation United Assistance, will be based out of Monrovia, Liberia, the country hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic and where the disease is currently spreading fastest, and will be commanded by an Army general. Obama’s announcement follows weeks of calls from global health organizations that global assistance, in particular American help, is needed to address the disease.

The World Health Organization announced last week that as of Sept. 7, there have been 4,366 confirmed, suspected, or probable cases of the disease, with 2,218 deaths. More troubling is the pace of infections, which has steadily risen despite local, regional, and international containment efforts. The WHO has predicted “thousands” of new infections in the coming weeks, calling on the global community to make an “exponential increase” in its response efforts.

U.S. officials have maintained that there is a minimal threat to the United States from the disease, but Obama warned in an interview earlier this month with NBC’s Meet The Press that failing to act could elevate the risk to the nation. “If we don’t make that effort now, and this spreads not just through Africa but other parts of the world, there’s the prospect then that the virus mutates,” Obama said. “It becomes more easily transmittable. And then it could be a serious danger to the United States.”

While the affected countries have imposed screenings at their airports to stop infected individuals from boarding aircraft, U.S. officials outlined efforts to build up detection and prevention capabilities at home, including new training efforts for airline employees and flight attendants to spot ill passengers. Customs and Border Protection officers manning ports of entry to the U.S. have also received additional training to spot potentially infected travelers. Currently the disease can only be spread by direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected patients.

U.S. officials said that in addition to the potential for the disease to spread to the U.S., they are concerned by economic, security, and political instability in countries heavily affected by the outbreak.

Earlier this month, Obama released a video to the people of West Africa, raising awareness about the disease.

TIME Africa

Report: More Than 5,000 Dead in Central African Republic

An Anti-Balaka Christian fighter stands on the front of a looted Muslim store in Guen, some 250 kilometers north of Bangui, Central African Republic, in April 15, 2014.
An Anti-Balaka Christian fighter stands on the front of a looted Muslim store in Guen, some 250 kilometers north of Bangui, Central African Republic, in April 15, 2014. Jerome Delay—AP

(GUEN, Central African Republic) — There are no headstones to mark these graves, no loving words, nothing to tell the world who lies in these two giant pits full of bodies, or why. Yet a handful of village elders are determined that nobody will be forgotten.

These old men, their eyes clouded by cataracts and their ears hacked by machete blades, sit on dirty straw mats at a church and gather the names of the dead from broken survivors. They write each name carefully in Arabic with faded blue ink on lined paper, neatly folded and stored in the pocket of one man’s tattered kaftan. The list is four pages long.

At least 5,186 people have died in Central African Republic since fighting between Muslims and Christians started in December, according to an Associated Press tally gleaned from more than 50 of the hardest-hit communities and the capital, Bangui. That’s well more than double the death toll of about 2,000 cited by the United Nations back in April, when it approved a peacekeeping mission. The deaths have mounted steadily since, with no official record.

As the U.N. prepares to go into the Central African Republic next week, the death toll underscores how the aid is coming too late for thousands of victims. The about 2,000 extra troops to boost African forces fall short of the almost 7,000 authorized in April, with the rest expected by early 2015. Yet the conflict has turned out to be far more deadly than it was then, and warnings of potential mass carnage from former colonizer France and from the U.N. itself have gone unheeded.

“The international community said it wanted to put a stop to the genocide that was in the making. But months later, the war has not stopped, ” says Joseph Bindoumi, president of the Central African Human Rights League, who collects handwritten testimonies from relatives stapled together with photos of their slain loved ones.

“On the contrary, it has gotten worse. Today, towns that were not under severe threat back in April have become the sites of true disasters.”

___

Both life and death often go unrecorded in Central African Republic, a country of about 4.6 million that has long teetered on the edge of anarchy. Nobody knows just how many people have died in the grinding ethnic violence, and even the AP tally is almost certainly a fraction of the real toll.

The AP counted bodies and gathered numbers from dozens of survivors, priests, imams, human rights groups and local Red Cross workers, including those in a vast, remote swath of the west that makes up a third of the country. Many deaths here were not officially counted because the region is still dangerous and can barely be reached in torrential rains. Others were left out by overwhelmed aid workers but registered at mosques and at private Christian funerals.

The U.N. is not recording civilian deaths on its own, unlike in Iraq or Afghanistan, for example. And it took months to gather troops from different countries for the mission, which will take over from regional peacekeeping forces on Sept. 15, said Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

“Mobilizing troops for peacekeeping mission takes time because it’s not like they’re waiting in New York for us,” Dujarric said Wednesday. “We have to go knock on doors for troops, for equipment, helicopters…”

The conflict started when Muslim rebels captured the capital last March, for the first time since independence from France in 1960. The rebels, known as the Seleka, killed hundreds, possibly thousands of Christians, leaving families to push the bodies of their loved ones to cemeteries in wheelbarrows and carts. Even when Christian militias forced the rebels to withdraw in late January, they killed as they went.

In the tiny Christian village of Nzakoun, where the only sounds after dark are of crickets and the occasional mango dropping on a rooftop, the roar of vehicles woke up 13-year-old Maximin Lassananyant in the dead of night in early February. Soon the gunshots rang out. The Seleka had come.

The rebels set ablaze more than two dozen houses. Then they went door-to-door, killing villagers and stealing everything they hadn’t destroyed.

Maximin stumbled out of the hut where he slept with his mother and two siblings into the darkness, with only the moon to light his path. He hid for two days in the bush, petrified. He prayed that his family was just hiding someplace else.

Then the other survivors from the village found him. They told him it was time to come home and bury his family. The stones of his home still reeked of blood, caked on the ground and the walls inside.

Now it is only Maximin and his father, a traumatized man of few words, who remain, along with another brother who was away that fateful night. The boy’s hands shake as he tries to write down the names of his family. He cannot bring himself to say them aloud.

A village chief has hand-printed the names of 22 buried victims on a weathered piece of paper from a classroom notebook. Maximin’s mother, Rachel, is No. 11 on the list of females, and his 5-year-old sister Fani is No. 13. His 7-year-old brother Boris is on the list of males. A separate list details the homes destroyed, the people missing.

The sound of an unknown vehicle passing in Nzakoun still sends families fleeing back into the forest.

___

It was only a matter of time — sometimes just hours — before the Christians took revenge.

The mounting hatred was fuelled in part by economic resentment. Muslims make up about 15 percent of the population, compared to Christians at 50 percent, yet Muslims ran the merchant class and the lucrative diamond business. As Christian militias took back control of town after town, they unleashed a violence believed to have left several thousands dead, mostly Muslims.

Soon after dawn one morning, Christian fighters stormed the outskirts of Guen, a town with a sizeable Muslim population because of the diamond mining nearby. They attacked the brick homes of Muslims, identifiable by fences traditionally put up all around them, and killed men in front of their children.

“We have suffered under the Seleka and now it is your turn,” they screamed at the Muslims.

Within hours, 23 people were dead.

Several days later, the Christian fighters stormed a house in town where dozens of Muslim men and boys had sought refuge. A few escaped. The rest were herded at gunpoint to a shady lawn beneath two large mango trees, recalls a survivor.

Here the terrified victims were ordered to lie on their stomachs. Then the militia leader, armed with a Kalashnikov rifle, began shooting them, one by one. He ordered his fighters to finish off the wounded with machete blows to the head.

In the end, 43 people were slain under the mango trees, including two 11-year-old boys.

A 10-year-old and a 13-year-old survived only by lying still amid the bloody corpses until darkness fell. Then they ran for their lives to a nearby town, according to other survivors, including the mother of one of the boys.

The lives of three Muslims in town were spared: They were the ones who transported the bludgeoned bodies to two mass graves on a wooden stretcher, still stained with blood months later.

A villager named Abakar lost four of his sons that day, all between the ages of 11 and 16. The thought of his boys awaiting certain death has him sobbing so hard he cannot speak. Even now he will only give his first name because he is so afraid that the militants will hunt him down.

“Each night before I go to sleep I pray to God that I don’t have nightmares about that day,” he chokes out between his sobs.

Two community leaders — both Christians — pleaded for the lives of the boys and men that day in Guen. They were told they too would be slain if they did not leave. They could not eat or sleep for days. “What more could we do?” they now say to each other, over and over.

Edmond Beina, the local leader of a Christian militia, is unrepentant. Everyone killed that day was a Seleka Muslim rebel, he says. Even the children.

Today, pages from holy Qurans blow through the grass at the house where the boys tried to hide. They are the only reminder of those who died.

___

The violence is now bubbling up in previously stable corners, hitting both Christians and Muslims. In Bambari, northeast of the capital, at least 149 people were killed in June and July alone, according to witnesses, including about 17 Christians sheltering at a Catholic church compound. And in the Mbres area in the north, Muslim rebels left at least 34 people dead in August.

About 20,000 Muslims are trapped in isolated communities across the nation, despite a mass exodus earlier this year, according to a U.N. report in August. Among them is Saidou Bouba, who waits outside the mayor’s office in the town of Boda.

Bouba had spent his entire life in this diamond town south of the capital. But when the Christian militia fighters burned his house down in early February, the 46-year-old herder knew it was time to leave.

So he and his family joined a group of 34 Muslim refugees heading for Cameroon. They took with them all their savings — some 300 cattle — to start a new life.

About 37 miles outside town, they stopped to rest beneath a tree. There, a group of heavily armed men on foot, wearing traditional Muslim clothing, opened fire on the crowd.

Bouba shouted in disbelief: “Why are you trying to harm your fellow Muslims?”

But they were not Muslims. They were Christian fighters wearing the clothes of their last victims. “Lie down, dogs!” the men shouted.

The last thing Bouba remembers is being knocked unconscious with a machete blow to the head.

When he awoke, he was surrounded by the bodies of his two wives and five children. Mama and Abdoulaye, both just 3 years old, Nafissa and Rassida, 6, and Mariam, 8, were all dead, their tiny heads bashed in with machetes.

Only Bouba and one other man survived. They sat among the 32 bodies for an entire day in shock before making their way back to town.

“I put everything now in the hands of God,” he says softly, his face and head still scarred by machete wounds from that awful day. “He gave my family to me and then he took them away.”

There are grieving fathers everywhere in this tiny enclave: Abakar Hissein has lost two sons, both shot to death, Ahmat earlier this year in Bangui and Ali on Aug. 20 in Boda. Hissein carried Ali’s body back in his own arms. His wife has been missing for five months — he thinks she has made it to neighboring Chad — and does not know yet another son is dead.

Even in death, there is no peace for the victims.

Earlier this summer, a Muslim man was buried at a cemetery in Boda, just a mile away from the zone where Muslims are barricaded.

Later that evening, after the sun set, his body was dug up from the ground and set on fire.

___

Associated Press writer Steve Niko in Boda, Central African Republic and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

TIME energy

Africa and Belgium Generate the Same Amount of Electricity – But That’s Changing

Laborers work at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz region in Ethiopia, March 2014.
Laborers work at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia, March 2014. Tiksa Negeri—Reuters

Lack of power is holding Africa back

This article originally appeared on OilPrice.com

The statistics of the African Development Bank are terrifying: Africa’s total installed power generation capacity is 147 gigawatts. That’s about the same amount as Belgium’s total capacity, and the equivalent of what China installs every 12 to 24 months.

To turn this around by 2030 and ensure universal electricity access, the International Energy Agency assumes a $30 billion investment would be needed, at minimum.

It would be foolish to envision a future where Africa’s energy needs are to be met by expensive conventional fossil fuels. Sadly, few intercontinental efforts to boost installed renewable energy capacity seem to be gaining traction. However, a number of countries have come to this realization. Unfortunately, they are not necessarily Africa’s dominant power generators but represent those who have set achievable renewable energy plans in motion. In these countries, the sheer magnitude of investments being made shows how importantly African governments take the challenge of making the continent energy efficient and sustainable.

Certainly, some countries have advantages. Due to the presence of the Blue Nile – one of the two major tributaries of the Nile River — 96 percent of Ethiopia’s energy comes from hydropower, but authorities have not seen this as a reason to ignore the country’s potential from other renewable sources. Over the current decade, Ethiopia is seeking to increase its supply fivefold from 2,000 megawatts (MW) to 10,000MW through renewable energy. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam across the Nile, set to be the biggest dam in Africa when it launches in 2017, will provide the bulk of that with a capacity of 6,000MW. However, Addis-Ababa’s renewables plan is remarkably well rounded, and includes wind, solar and geothermal. This is no mere paper pledge either, as leading geothermal expert Reykjavik Geothermal is on the ground to build a 1,000MW power plant, the first stage of which will open in the Rift Valley in 2018.

Kenya is Africa’s second biggest renewable energy power producer, behind Ethiopia, and presents a similar model. Hydropower powers half of Kenya and it will likely remain the continent’s foremost geothermal producer until Ethiopia opens its Rift Valley plant. Kenya is also planning Africa’s largest wind farm — a 300MW project to be built by the Lake Turkana Wind Power Construction. Should the project come to fruition, it will be Kenya’s largest-ever foreign investment, no mean feat for one of Africa’s most investment-friendly economies. Kenya also struck out from the pack by understanding the role financial services must play in any steady renewable energy plan and launching Africa’s first carbon trading platform in 2011.

Algeria has chosen a different tack than its sub-Saharan colleagues. In setting its own renewables plan, Algeria is seeking to become an energy exporter off the back of its solar potential. In 2011, it announced plans to install 22GW by 2030 with the goal of keeping 12GW for internal consumption and exporting 10GW. Rather than focusing on one massive project like Ethiopia or Kenya are, Algeria envisioned this capacity being spread across a myriad of smaller plants. This would largely be done with Chinese involvement, including Yingli Solar, which won a bid in December 2013 for the first 400MW tranche of 1.2GW solar plant. With instability in the region rising, it remains to be seen whether Algeria’s medium-term plans come to fruition, but its energy export ambitions are a wonderful example of the continent’s potential.

These examples are positive, but not every African country has a major river or serious interest from foreign investors. Many of the continent’s smaller economies, even trusted democracies like Botswana, are dependent on importing most of their power. But this should not stop them from taking active steps to halt this dependence.

Botswana has imported 80 percent of its electricity on average in recent years, but this country of 2 million has a program devoted to electrifying rural areas through renewables, has implemented renewable energy feed-in tariffs to stimulate investment, and used funds from the World Bank to fully investigate its concentrated solar power potential.

Efforts like these will hopefully serve as a clarion call to other African nations to explore their options for developing renewable energy sources, and to foreign investors about opportunities in this sector. Africa’s smaller countries cannot wait indefinitely for outside help: their energy future is in their own hands.

 

TIME Infectious Disease

Ebola Outbreak Is a ‘Serious Threat’ to Liberia’s Existence, Says Minister

A street artist, Stephen Doe, paints an educational mural to inform people about the symptoms of the deadly Ebola virus in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, on Sept. 8, 2014 Dominique Faget—AFP/Getty Images

The epidemic reveals the nation's "persistent and profound institutional weaknesses"

The Ebola virus is “spreading like wildfire and devouring everything in its path,” Liberia’s Defense Minister Brownie Samukai told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday, adding that the outbreak poses a “serious threat” to the war-torn nation’s very existence.

Samukai’s words were echoed by the U.N. Secretary-General’s special representative Karin Landgren, who said Liberia is facing its gravest threat since its decade-long civil war ended in 2003. She deemed the outbreak a “latter-day plague” and its spread “merciless.”

Liberia is worst hit among the nations affected by the current Ebola epidemic with at least 1,200 recorded deaths. Over the past three weeks, the country has experienced a 68% bump in infections and the World Health Organization estimates the surge will continue to accelerate in coming weeks.

There is a severe lack of hospital beds, and suspected victims of Ebola are reportedly turned back to their communities or left waiting outside medical facilities, aggravating the risk of further contagion.

With much state apparatus still in tatters after its devastating civil conflict, Liberia is especially ill prepared to deal with a crisis of this unprecedented scale. At least 160 health workers have been infected with the virus and 79 have died, in a nation that counted a paltry single doctor per 100,000 inhabitants at its onset. Landgren pointed out that the challenge also goes beyond the medical response.

“The enormous task of addressing Ebola has revealed persistent and profound institutional weaknesses, including in the security sector,” she said. “As the demands pile on, the police face monumental challenges in planning and implementing large scale operations.”

Marten Grunditz, chairman of the Liberia Configuration of the U.N. Peacebuilding Commission, emphasized the critical need for continued international support for Liberia’s postconflict transition. The current crisis has already taken a toll on the country’s fragile economy. Only two international airlines still service Liberia, Samukai told the U.N. council, while President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told an audience at Harvard University over Skype that several mining and agricultural companies had scaled down or shuttered their operations.

“This will cost us quite a bit and it will take us some time to get back to the level of progress that we had,” she said, according to Reuters.

Experts say the most likely explanation for the Ebola outbreak is the consumption of infected wild animals, the so-called bush meat. In a model by Oxford University, published in the journal eLife on Monday, 15 African countries are at risk of similar transmissions — a larger number than was previously assumed.

“This does not mean that transmission to humans is inevitable in these areas; only that all the environmental and epidemiological conditions suitable for an outbreak occur there,” the study’s author, Nick Golding, told the Washington Post.

The U.N. Secretary-General’s special representative Karin Landgren holds a press conference after a Security Council briefing and consultation on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

TIME Infectious Disease

WHO: ‘Many Thousands’ of New Ebola Cases Expected in Coming Weeks

Health workers, attend to patients that contracted the Ebola virus, at a clinic in Monrovia, Liberia, Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. Abbas Dulleh—AP

Liberia taxis have turned into "hot sources" of transmission as infected people crisscross town in futile attempts to find hospital beds

The World Health Organization (WHO) says responders to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa need to prepare to scale up their efforts three to four times as the number of cases sees an “exponential increase” over coming weeks.

The U.N. body has been assessing the situation in Liberia, and outlines a desperate situation there and in other countries with a high rate of disease transmission in a statement released on Monday.

“As soon as a new Ebola treatment facility is opened, it immediately fills to overflowing with patients, pointing to a large but previously invisible caseload,” the WHO stated. “Many thousands of new cases are expected in Liberia over the coming three weeks.”

About 4,000 people have been confirmed infected with Ebola since the outbreak started in March, and around half of these have died. Guinea and Sierra Leone have been hard hit, but Liberia has recorded the highest cumulative number of reported cases and deaths. The transmission rate there remains perilous and in Montserrado county, which includes the capital Monrovia, “only half of the urgent and immediate capacity needs could be met within the next few weeks and months.”

The massive pressure on health facilities is aggravating the risk for further contagion. Sick people and their relatives are shuttling through the city in taxis, searching in vain for available hospital beds. Since Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood and sweat, the lack of disinfection of these vehicles have turned them into a “hot source” for spreading the disease, according to the WHO.

At an emergency African Union meeting in Addis Ababa on Monday, officials said that measures to curb the outbreak such as border closures, flight bans and extensive quarantines had created a sense of siege in the worst-hit West African countries. Public health officials have previously deemed the closure of porous borders ineffective, and it has been pointed out that bans on transportation — most notably flights to and from the continental airport hubs in Nairobi and Johannesburg — are not only taking a severe economic toll on these stricken nations, but making aid deliveries more difficult.

African Union Chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said thorough border checks for people displaying Ebola-like symptoms should replace blanket bans on people arriving from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, but that the decision should be made by the individual countries themselves, the Wall Street Journal reports.

“We are not working on schedules, whether you will lift [the ban] tomorrow or this evening. We are working on principle decisions, which we expect our member states to implement,” Dlamini-Zuma said. “The decision was that it must be urgently done.”

Senegal officials announced at the meeting that they would allow humanitarian aid to pass through its closed borders.

Medics at the Ebola treatment unit in Monrovia’s JFK Hospital suit up in protective gear before attending to their patients.

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