Amid daily updates on the chaos in Ebola-infected areas, shortages of medical supplies and doctors, and suspected cases popping up as far away as New York, one of the victims of the virus is often overlooked: West Africa’s economic progress.The BBC has an overview of the toll this outbreak has taken on the economies of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, the last of which has been hardest hit:
“The economy has been deflated by 30% because of Ebola,” Sierra Leone’s Agriculture Minister Joseph Sam Sesay told the BBC.He said President Ernest Bai Koroma revealed this staggering and depressing news to ministers at a special cabinet meeting. “The agricultural sector is the most impacted in terms of Ebola because the majority of the people of Sierra Leone – about 66% – are farmers,” he said.
The blockades on streets have stopped people from traveling and spreading the virus, but are also preventing sellers from reaching local markets. Meanwhile, Guinea and Liberia, though not as badly off, are still seeing an economic slump:
In Guinea and Liberia the economic predictions may be less catastrophic but they are still worrying. The World Bank said it was expecting GDP growth in Guinea to fall from 4.5% to 3.5%.The Liberian economy had been expected to grow by 5.9% this year but the country’s Finance Minister, Amara Konneh, said this was no longer realistic due to a slowdown in the transport and services sectors and the departure of foreign workers because of Ebola.
Western mining companies have sent home some of their workers and curtailed operations, while imports and exports have declined due to the closing of borders. The WHO reports that food and other essentials are not reaching these countries, because many companies have suspended operations. In its recent bulletin, the WHO (plaintively) “calls on companies to make business decisions based on scientific evidence with regard to the transmission of Ebola virus.” The virus is not airborne, it notes, nor are companies that transport supplies at great risk of infection.Though it can’t compare to the damage done to lives and fortunes, the Ebola outbreak has also undermined Africa’s image as a rising continent and worthwhile investment risk. As one consultant tells the BBC, “The stereotypes of Africa as a place of poverty and disease have started to re-emerge again.”Finding a cure for Ebola, and in the meantime treating it as the global threat it is, will be essential for these countries’ present and future. Not only does the health of Africans and others depend on eradicating this disease, so does the continent’s slow but promising emergence in global markets.