TIME Afghanistan

Opium Crop at Record High in Afghanistan

An Afghan farmer works on a poppy field collecting the green bulbs swollen with raw opium, the main ingredient in heroin, in the Khogyani district of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, April 17, 2014.
An Afghan farmer works on a poppy field collecting the green bulbs swollen with raw opium, the main ingredient in heroin, in the Khogyani district of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, April 17, 2014. Rahmat Gul—AP

As US withdraws troops, opium cultivation reaches new levels

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says Afghanistan’s potential opium production for 2014 is set to increase by 27% from the previous year, up to an estimated 6,400 tons. The Afghan poppy crop has provided the bulk of the world’s heroin supply over the past twenty years, accounting for nearly 70% of it in 2000.

The U.S. said in October they had spent $7.6 billion trying to eradicate opium poppies since troops arrived in the country in 2001 to oust the Taliban. As NATO and U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan this year, it comes as little surprise that this year’s report is particularly sobering. Opium poppy cultivation has risen by 7% year on year and now covers more than 553,000 acres of land.

The overwhelming majority of cultivation takes place in the Southern and Western provinces, parts of the country which have been subject to the most violence and are the least secure. Opium accounts for nearly $1 billion, roughly 4% of the country’s estimated GDP.

UNODC Director Yury Fedotov said in a statement that illicit drugs have had a disastrous impact on the country, with more than one million Afghans currently drug dependent.

Fedotov met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani last weekend to discuss plans to counter the harmful effects of drug production on Afghans and their neighbors. Money from the drug production finances Taliban operations and contributes to a great deal of organized crime and corruption in the Afghan government.

TIME Syria

U.S. Says Syria Still Has Several Chemical-Weapons Facilities

Syria: Anniversary of Chemical Massacre in Aleppo
Protesters stand in the first anniversary of the chemical massacre in East Ghota, where hundreds of civilians were killed, in Aleppo, Syria on August 21, 2014. Karam Almasri—Pacific Press/AP

The claim comes just months after the ending of a U.N. joint mission to destroy the country's illicit stockpile

The U.S. envoy to the U.N. Samantha Power took to Twitter on Tuesday, claiming Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government has at least four chemical-weapons sites.

Power said that Sigrid Kaag, the special coordinator of a joint mission to eliminate Syria’s declared chemical-weapons program, confirmed that the embattled Syrian regime failed to declare the four facilities.

Kaag told fellow diplomats of the suspect facilities during a briefing at the U.N. on Tuesday.

The U.N.’s joint mission to destroy the Assad government’s illicit chemical arsenal concluded earlier this summer — more than a year after the regime’s forces used sarin nerve gas against rebel fighters and civilians in the suburbs of Damascus, killing hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

The Assad regime later brokered a deal with Moscow, allowing international authorities to destroy the country’s chemical weapons in order to prevent U.S. forces from launching air strikes against forces loyal to the Syrian government.

The existence of chemical-weapons facilities within Syria continues to vex foreign governments and analysts alike, who fear that any number of the myriad opposition forces, including ISIS, could one day get their hands on the illicit stockpile.

The news follows confirmation from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in September that chlorine-based weapons have been deployed against rebel forces fighting the government in Syria.

“The report cites witness accounts indicating helicopters were used in the attacks — a capability the opposition lacks. This strongly points to Syrian regime culpability,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s office in a statement late last month.

TIME politics

U.N. Headquarters in South Dakota: How It Could Have Happened

UN HQ - Dec. 10, 1945
From the Dec. 10, 1945, issue of TIME TIME

New York City wasn’t the obvious choice for the United Nations headquarters

Representatives from around the world are now gathering in New York City for the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly. A vast cadre of diplomats, staff and heads of state have descended on the Big Apple — ensuring a nightmare for daily commuters. But, though that traffic jam is now a dependable annual event, New York City wasn’t the obvious choice for the United Nations headquarters.

In the wake of the 1945 conference establishing the modern day United Nations — which took place in San Francisco — a committee was set up to find the best spot for what would essentially become the world’s capital. A look back into TIME’s coverage of that period shows that the competition to host the U.N. was wide open, though one thing was clear: New York City, where the UN would be overshadowed by “Wall Street, etc…” as one TIME story put it, was no good.

Philadelphia made a strong case for itself when delegates visited to check out potential sites in 1946, TIME reported:

When the time for on-the-spot inspection came, the spirit of brotherly love was almost overpowering. There was a cocktail party for them in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Day, who would be evicted if [one of the potential locations] were chosen. Mr. and Mrs. Day thought that would be a fine idea.

…Philadelphia’s hosts never missed a bet. There was a concert by the famed Philadelphia Orchestra, a luncheon at the Art Museum (under pictures by Matisse, Gauguin and Reynolds). In a helicopter provided for the delegates, Holland’s Jan de Ranitz and Dr. M. P. M. van Karnebeek plopped down near Philadelphia for a hearty greeting by a local farmer & family.

But, still, even Philadelphia was considered to be too close to New York and Washington, D.C.

Chicago, San Francisco, Atlantic City and Boston were among the other locales lobbying to become the permanent headquarters. One unlikely contender, the Black Hills region of South Dakota, made the rational argument that it was far from the reach of an atomic bomb, unlike the coastal cities.

“In the Black Hills there are no military objectives, and the gentlemen who are striving for the peace of the world can live at peace while the atomic bombs are falling,” Paul Bellamy, a businessman representing the Black Hills, told an assembly of the U.N., which was temporarily based in London, according to a TIME story from December 1945.

“It was no part of Bellamy’s job, or of the booster tradition,” the author noted, “to ask what the gentlemen would be doing at that point.”

Ultimately, Bellamy’s urgings were for naught. Despite the organizers’ original misgivings, real-estate concerns ended up carrying more weight than atomic ones: New York City received the boost it needed when philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. gifted a parcel of Manhattan land to the U.N.

Read a 1952 cover story about the building of the current United Nations headquarters: Cheops’ Architect

TIME Syria

Thousands Are Fleeing From Syria to Turkey to Escape the Latest ISIS Onslaught

TURKEY-SYRIA-KURDS-REFUGEES
Syrian Kurds carry belongings as they cross the border between Syria and Turkey near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, on Sept. 20, 2014. Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images

Turkey is already home to nearly 1.5 million Syrian refugees

At least 100,000 Syrian refugees flooded across the border into Turkey over the weekend as Sunni extremist fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) launched an offensive against Kurdish communities in northern Syria.

Approximately 150,000 people have been displaced since ISIS began to encircle the border town of Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, last week.

“Four or five days ago this area was quite safe,” Selin Unal, a spokesperson with the U.N.’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, told TIME on Monday. “And then after three days, 100,000 Syrians fled to Turkey.”

The militants have reportedly routed dozens of towns and executed at least 11 people in the villages outside of Kobani, according to activists.

“[ISIS] are continuing to advance,” Welat Avar, a doctor, told Reuters from Kobani. “Every place they pass through they kill, wound and kidnap people. Many people are missing and we believe they were kidnapped.”

International aid groups and Turkish officials warned that thousands of additional refugees are likely to try to cross the border in the coming days amid the militants’ offensive. Before the weekend’s onslaught, Turkey had already been home to close to 1.5 million refugees from the conflict-torn nation.

“Turkish government authorities and UNHCR are preparing for the possibility of hundreds of thousands more refugees arriving over the coming days, as the battle for the northern Syrian city of Kobani forces more people to flee,” read a statement released by the U.N. refugee agency over the weekend.

On Sunday, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group classified as a terrorist organization by both Ankara and Washington, called on fellow Kurds to take up arms to repel ISIS.

“Supporting this heroic resistance is not just a debt of honor of the Kurds but all Middle East people. Just giving support is not enough, the criterion must be taking part in the resistance,” the PKK said in a statement.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that hundreds of Kurdish fighters from inside Turkey crossed into Syria over the weekend to help beat back the ISIS offensive. Near the border, Turkish Kurds demonstrated in solidarity with the refugees, leading to clashes with authorities, who deployed tear gas and water cannon against the protesters.

While ISIS’s thrust in Iraq has been largely slowed by U.S. air strikes, American forces have yet to target the militant group’s myriad positions in neighboring Syria, thus allowing the group to continue to consume large swaths of territory across the country’s north and east.

During an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power hinted that the White House and its allies are ready to strike in Syria, but refrained from announcing how the Obama Administration was preparing to do so.

“The President has said we’re not going to allow [ISIS] to have a safe haven in Syria,” said Power. “But no decisions have been made in terms of how we’re going to proceed in that.”

Earlier this month, Turkey refrained from joining the U.S.-led coalition aiming to take the fight to the jihadist organization.

The uptick in violence along Turkey’s frontier coincides with the release of 49 Turkish diplomats over the weekend. All 49 had been in ISIS’s custody for three months since jihadist militants routed Iraqi security forces in Mosul in July.

Ankara has yet to provide firm details regarding the so-called rescue operation that succeeded in freeing the diplomats.

TIME politics

The History Behind the Other ‘United Nations’

united nations - Jan. 19, 1942
From the Jan. 19, 1942, issue of TIME TIME

In 1942, the group known as the United Nations was convened to accomplish one goal: defeat the Axis powers

The United Nations was created in 1942 — but not the United Nations as we know it, the group whose representatives are this week converging in New York City for the 69th General Assembly.

When the phrase first “slipped into the world’s vocabulary,” as TIME wrote, the world was in the midst of war, and the concept of wide-scale international collaboration was fraught. World War II had already exposed the failure of the League of Nations, the international organization set up after the previous world war. Still, in January of 1942, 26 nations, including the U.S., the U.K., Russia and China, signed a pact uniting them in one goal: to defeat the Axis powers. The name, which had been proposed by the Roosevelt administration, became the official title for the Allied powers.

“For the people of the Axis countries that fact could not be other than sobering: 26 nations—count them—26, all determined that Hitler and his tyranny shall be destroyed,” TIME wrote at the time.

Even then there was skepticism that the United Nations could be effective. Some called for a cooperative body to oversee the war effort, while others continued to call for a union of peoples and not just an intergovernmental pact.

But the United Nations prevailed, and when, after the war, world leaders descended on San Francisco for the conference to hash out the details of an intergovernmental organization to jointly confront the world’s problems, they called it the United Nations. The first session of the United Nations General Assembly opened in 1946.

Take a look at TIME’s coverage of the signing of the declaration of the original United Nations in 1942:

The significance of the pact was slower being digested. In Washington, enthusiasts compared it to the Articles of Confederation that had held the 13 States together until the Constitutional Convention. Advocates of Union Now thought it did not go far enough, wanted a union of peoples, rather than of governments. Josephus Daniels recalled his last talk with Woodrow Wilson, when Wilson had said: “The things we have fought for are sure to prevail . . . [and] may come in a better way than we proposed.” Advocates of a revived, strengthened League of Nations hoped the United Nations would prove the better way.

Taken at its face value, the Declaration was impressive. If the signing nations could actually employ their “full resources,” their power would be staggering. Their combined populations came to almost 1,500,000,000 of the world’s 2,145,000,000. They held twice as much of the world’s steel capacity as the Axis, most of its wheat, most of the materials needed for making war or prospering in peace.

Today’s United Nations, by those standards, is even more impressive: instead of 26 member nations, there are 193.

Read the 1942 story about the original United Nations here, in TIME’s archives: The United Nations

TIME foreign affairs

Soldiers From Poor Countries Have Become the World’s Peacekeepers

Undated photograph released by Hanin Network, a militant website, shows Fijian UN peacekeepers who were seized by The Nusra Front on Aug. 28, 2014, in the Golan Heights.
Undated photograph released by Hanin Network, a militant website, shows Fijian UN peacekeepers who were seized by The Nusra Front on Aug. 28, 2014, in the Golan Heights. AP

It is an unfair burden for troops who are less well trained, under-supplied and ill equipped

On Aug. 28, rebels from the al-Qaeda-allied al-Nusra Front stormed the Golan Heights border crossing between Syria and Israel, home to one of the oldest U.N. peacekeeping operations. While two contingents of Philippine peacekeepers managed to flee the rebel attack, 45 Fijian troops were captured and taken away by the rebels to parts unknown.

The Fijians were finally released on Sept. 11, but the two-week crisis crystallized a persistent yet under-reported fact: while the U.N. calls upon the international community to act in times of crises, it is often soldiers from developing nations who shoulder the stiffest burden.

In 1994, on the heels of the Rwandan genocide, the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (China, Russia, France, the U.K. and the U.S.) provided 20% of all U.N. peacekeeping personnel.

But by 2004, Security Council nations contributed only 5% of U.N. personnel. This July, amid a tumultuous summer of violent conflicts, that figure had dropped to a miserly 4%, while the governments of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Fiji, Ethiopia, Rwanda and the Philippines provided a staggering 39% of all U.N. forces.

Critics can counter this charge with stats of their own. After all, they say, the permanent members contribute 53% of the U.N.’s annual budget, far outstripping financial contributions made by countries of the global south. But recent years have also seen sluggish rates of payment from wealthier nations — delays that further strain an overburdened system supporting 16 peacekeeping missions around the world.

On balance, the troops contributed by developing countries are more likely to be less well trained, under-supplied and ill equipped for the missions. Delays in financial contributions only complicate the challenges of modern peacekeeping.

So does the fractured nature of modern conflicts. Military experts, like General Sir Rupert Smith, have noted the shift from “industrial wars” of the past to today’s “war amongst the people.” Modern conflicts involve combatants whose ends are not merely the control of territory or the monopoly of politics. They wage war with their own rules, without concern for the U.N.’s mission to referee.

In response, peacekeeping has been hurriedly ramped up: more comprehensive mandates are issued and troops are cleared to use force in defense of civilians. But in the end, peacekeepers are redundant where there is no peace to keep.

The Golan Heights are no exception. The U.N. Disengagement Observer Force was set up 40 years ago precisely to observe the contentious border between Israel and Syria. Today, the threats aren’t even nation states. The peacekeepers in Golan must contend with spillover from Syria’s three-year-long civil war, and the aggression of al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front. They are forced to become soldiers on the front lines of a perpetually asymmetrical conflict, treated as mere machine-gun fodder whenever the international community seeks to stem the spread of terror by piling blue helmets in its way.

In a New York Times op-ed of Aug. 29, Secretary of State John Kerry discussed U.S. intentions to use its position as president of the Security Council to coordinate a response to terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East.

“The United States … will use that opportunity to continue to build a broad coalition and highlight the danger posed by foreign terrorist fighters,” Kerry wrote, adding that “President Obama, addressing the Security Council, would construct a plan to deal with this collective threat.”

For observers, however, events in Golan should serve as a warning. If the U.N. and its leading members intend to tackle collective threats, it is time to address how best to equitably divide the collective risk. In service of international stability, leaders of the developed world have become far too comfortable asking developing countries to put their troops in the line of fire.

Adam McCauley is a Canadian writer and photographer currently based in Hong Kong. His work has appeared in TIME, the New York Times, Al Jazeera and online in the New Yorker.

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 Syria

The U.S. Is Worried That Assad May Still Have Chemical Weapons

German Company To Destroy Syrian Chemical Weapons
Destroyed ammunition is stored in a container during a press day at the GEKA facility on March 5, 2014 in Munster, Germany. GEKA is federally-funded and its sole function is the destruction of chemical weapons from military arsenals. Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons last August. Nigel Treblin—Getty Images

Questions remain over “discrepancies and omissions” in Syria’s original chemical-weapons declaration

The U.S. expressed concern on Thursday that the Syrian government may still have chemical weapons, violating its agreement with the international community last September.

Following a meeting at the U.N. Security Council, U.S. envoy Samantha Power told reporters that doubts about existing “discrepancies and omissions in Syria’s original declaration” on its chemical arsenal have yet to be cleared up.

“I want to stress that much more work still needs to be done on Syria’s chemical-weapons program,” Power told reporters. “We must ensure that the Syrian government destroys its remaining facilities for producing chemical weapons within the mandated time frames and without the repeated delays by the Assad regime that plagued earlier removal efforts.”

Power also expressed fears that the myriad rebel groups in Syria could potentially get their hands on chemical weapons, and chided President Bashar Assad’s regime for its apparently continued use of chlorine gas against insurgents.

“It is still our belief that the Assad regime — its brutality, the barrel-bomb attacks, the possible chlorine use now, the previous chemical-weapons attacks — these are recruiting tools that extremists have used to attract foreign terrorist fighters to Syria,” she said.

Power’s statement came after Sigrid Kaag, the special coordinator on the joint mission to eliminate Syria’s declared chemical-weapons program, briefed the Security Council.

According to Kaag, all of Syria’s primary chemical weapons have been destroyed. However, 12 weapons-production facilities have yet to be decommissioned. She also agreed that long-standing questions remain over Damascus’ original declaration.

“There are still some discrepancies or questions that are being asked,” Kaag told reporters. “It’s a discussion that’s continuing in Damascus as well as the Hague.”

The U.N.’s joint mission to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons wrapped up earlier this summer — more than year after the Assad regime fired sarin nerve gas into a rebel-held enclave in the suburbs of Damascus, killing hundreds of people.

The Syrian government was able to stave off retaliatory U.S. air strikes by agreeing to a Moscow-brokered plan to surrender the nation’s chemical arsenal to international authorities.

TIME Infectious Disease

Ebola Spreads to Southern Nigeria With 3 Cases Confirmed and 60 at ‘High Risk’

An aerial view of the oil hub city Port Harcourt in Nigeria's Delta region
An aerial view of the oil hub city Port Harcourt in Nigeria's Delta region May 16, 2012. Akintunde Akinleye / Reuters—REUTERS

WHO officials warn that the epidemic is accelerating rapidly

Correction appended, Sept. 4.

Three cases of Ebola have been identified in the southern Nigerian city of Port Harcourt, the World Health Organization (WHO) says, confirming that the disease has spread outside Lagos, where five people have died.

Officials in Port Harcourt — a teeming city of 1.4 million in the Niger delta — are now monitoring over 200 people, 60 of whom are considered at high risk of having contracted the disease. It is a worrying expansion of an epidemic that has now killed 1,900 in West Africa and defied the attempts of under-staffed and under-funded aid teams to halt it.

WHO officials warn that the virus is not just expanding geographically but also accelerating. Ebola has now sickened upwards of 3,500 people and in the past week alone almost 400 people have died of the virus, said Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO at a press conference in Washington D.C. on Wednesday.

“This Ebola epidemic is the longest, the most severe and the most complex we’ve ever seen,” said Chan. Experts, she added, “have never seen anything like it.”

Some $600 million in supplies will now be needed to duel with the epidemic, the worst on record, WHO officials said—up $110 million from the estimate given last week, according to Reuters. The increased sum will further test the willingness of the global community to tackle the disease at source. Health organizations such as Doctors Without Borders have already been highly critical of what they say is a lackluster international response.

As the epidemic expands, resources on the ground have not, WHO officials said. There is no room in what few hospitals there are in the worst-hit areas; terrified medical staff have stopped showing up to work; and in Liberia the bodies of Ebola victims are being left unattended in the streets. Some who contract the disease are also choosing to hide their illness—in the meantime, unwittingly infecting those around them—rather than be turned upon by neighbors.

Meanwhile, some 150 scientists and experts convened Thursday at the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, for a two-day meeting to review available experimental Ebola drugs and vaccines and draft testing plans for the most promising. None of the drugs have been tested in humans, but one of them, ZMapp, was given to two Ebola patients who survived their illness.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded a contract worth up to $42.3 million to ZMapp’s manufacturer, jump-starting clinical trials and fresh production of the drug, supplies of which are currently tapped out.

The W.H.O estimates that Ebola will take 20,000 more lives before its transmission is stopped.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly identified the capital of Nigeria. It is Abuja.

Footage of life in Dolo Town, some 40 miles (60 k.m.) east of Monrovia, Liberia, which has been quarantined to contain the spread of Ebola.

TIME Infectious Disease

Desperate WHO Calls Ebola Drug Summit As Crisis Worsens

LIBERIA-WAFRICA-HEALTH-EBOLA
Health care workers, wearing protective suits, leave a high-risk area at the French NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without borders) Elwa hospital in Monrovia, Liberia on Aug. 30, 2014. Dominique Faget—AFP/Getty Images

The world urgently needs to find a drug that can fight Ebola

More than 100 scientists and industry executives will convene this week at the WHO’s headquarters Geneva, Switzerland, in response to a spiraling Ebola crisis. Their urgent mission will be to comb through the world’s stock of experimental Ebola drugs and vaccines and agree on a plan for clinical trials.

The Sept. 4 to Sept. 5 meeting comes about a month after the WHO said that while it had a “moral duty” to conduct clinical trials, treating Ebola patients with drugs never previously tested on humans would be ethical given the severity of the crisis.

Experimental Ebola drugs – though still wildcards – have been touted as possible miracle workers in the international fight to quell the outbreak, the worst on record. The epidemic has subsumed Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, and it has appeared in Nigeria, Senegal, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

ZMapp, one of the drugs before the WHO, cured all 18 monkeys that had been infected with Ebola as part of a recent study. Even so, anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness in humans is inconclusive: it has never been tested on humans but was given to seven Ebola patients, two of which have lived, and two of which have died.

On Tuesday, U.S. health officials announced a $25 million contract with ZMapp’s supplier, Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., to begin testing the drug, as well as to jumpstart its production, as supplies are currently exhausted. The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) will also begin clinical trials of an Ebola vaccine next week, and trials of additional vaccines are set for the fall.

Meanwhile, the WHO announced last week that it has drafted a broad roadmap to “dramatically scale up the international response” to the crisis and halt Ebola’s spread within six to nine months.

Health workers have been highly critical of what they say is a lackluster international response to the emergency: after a U.N. meeting on Tuesday, Doctors without Boarders president Joanne Liu excoriated the leaders of unaffected nations for scrambling to secure their own borders against the virus, but failing to sending sufficient aid and experts into the crisis zones.

“Six months into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it,” Liu said, calling on able countries to send bio-defense teams to West Africa. “We cannot cut off the affected countries and hope this epidemic will simply burn out. To put out this fire, we must run into the burning building.”

Liu told the U.N. much of what has been done so far to stop the virus is not working. “Riots are breaking out,” she said. “Isolation centers are overwhelmed. Health workers on the front lines are becoming infected and are dying in shocking numbers. Others have fled in fear, leaving people without care for even the most common illnesses. Entire health systems have crumbled.”

The U.N. meanwhile warned on Tuesday that the quarantines are expected to cause a food crisis in West Africa, as restrictions on movement in and out of afflicted communities are affecting food supplies, and as panic buying is jacking up the prices of ever-scare staples.

More than 1,500 people have died in West Africa – almost half of the some 3,500 cases confirmed since the disease was identified in March. The WHO predicts that around 20,000 more people will fall ill with the virus before its spread can be stopped.

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