NEW DELHI: Wary of an Ebola outbreak in India, the Ministry of External Affairs has postponed its biggest outreach event for Africa. The India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) slated for December 2014 has been postponed to next year.
After the last two editions were restricted to a little over a dozen countries, the newest version of the IAFS was going to be the most ambitious with invitations to be sent out to leaders of 54 countries.
On Saturday, MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin announced the postponement of the India-Africa Summit till 2015, but did not cite any reasons for the change of plans.
But sources told The Sunday Standard that the decision has already been taken to postpone the summit due to the Ebola epidemic “MEA had forwarded the proposal about two weeks ago,” said a senior official, who added that the PMO finally approved the postponement earlier last week. “The postponement is only due to Ebola,” he added.
While the date had not been officially announced, it was mentioned in an answer given in parliament in July. “Hon’ble Prime Minister has approved 4th December 2014 as the date for the third India-Africa Forum Summit,” External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj had said in a written reply in Rajya Sabha on 31 July.
There were fears that the Ebola crisis would stop participation from seven countries due to travel restrictions. While Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have seen the maximum number of cases, there have also been reports of new transmission from Nigeria and Senegal. Besides, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivore, Guinea-Bissau and Mali are being actively monitored as they neighbour the areas of transmission.
“If we are planning such a big event, we should try to ensure the maximum participation,” he said. If the event went ahead as scheduled, officials were also not sure that there were enough quarantine facilities to isolate “high-risk” travellers with symptoms, especially with WHO and UN warning of a sharp upward trend in the crisis.
Over 5,500 people have been infected worldwide and more than 2,500 have died of Ebola, but international agencies term these figures as highly underestimated. At the emergency session of the UN Security Council, WHO director general termed the Ebola crisis as the “greatest peacetime challenge that the United Nations and its agencies have ever faced”.
According to the last bulletin issued by the Indian health ministry, 936 passengers were currently being tracked by the health ministry’s integrated disease surveillance project, while 17,075 passengers have been screened so far.
While a new date for the IAFS is yet to be fixed, the government is looking at a possible window in February. The delay also gives ample time to the organizers to put up a better show, as otherwise there would have been little time to prepare for the phalanx of leaders and officials to descend on India from 54 countries—the largest number since the Non-Aligned Summit in 1983.