News / Economy

Ebola Strains Fragile W. African Economies

Government health workers administer blood tests for the Ebola virus in Kenema, Sierra Leone, June 25, 2014.
Government health workers administer blood tests for the Ebola virus in Kenema, Sierra Leone, June 25, 2014.
Reuters

Poverty, then war. Now, a deadly plague.

Among the world's poorest states at the bottom of global development indexes, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea had shown signs of leaving behind brutal wars and leaping into Africa's economic boom – before a lethal Ebola epidemic struck.

As the world's biggest outbreak ravages the populations of these small states from West Africa's Mano River region, their resource-dependent economies are reeling from the impact.

A UNICEF worker talks with motorcycle taxi drivers about Ebola and precautions in Voinjama, Liberia, in this UNICEF handout photo.A UNICEF worker talks with motorcycle taxi drivers about Ebola and precautions in Voinjama, Liberia, in this UNICEF handout photo.
x
A UNICEF worker talks with motorcycle taxi drivers about Ebola and precautions in Voinjama, Liberia, in this UNICEF handout photo.
A UNICEF worker talks with motorcycle taxi drivers about Ebola and precautions in Voinjama, Liberia, in this UNICEF handout photo.

With the death toll topping more than 900, Ebola is crippling tourism, reducing travel and trade, and slowing farming and mining – delivering body blows to what had been buoyant GDP growth driven by increasing foreign investment, officials said.

“A common feature of these three countries is they're all fragile states,” Makhtar Diop, the World Bank's vice president for Africa, said on a call with reporters.

“It means that they're countries that need more support from the international community in normal times. ... And this external shock that they're currently facing, this crisis, is taking them even further back,” Diop said.
 

Liberia loses $12 million

Liberia's Finance Minister Amara Konneh said the outbreak had already cost his country's economy $12 million between April and June – 2 percent of the budget – and the disease was still spreading. Liberia would have to revise down its projected GDP growth of 5.9 percent, he said.

“We are scrambling for a response for this crisis. ... If it is not contained, it will have serious consequences for our economy,” Konneh told Reuters.

In the ramshackle ocean-front capital Monrovia, still scarred by a 1989-2003 civil war, relatives of Ebola victims were dragging bodies into the dirt streets rather than face quarantine enforced by troops.

Sierra Leone's foreign minister, Samura Kamara, said his country could ill afford the costs of fighting the epidemic.

“You have to divert resources. You have to divert energy. So you are slowing down the other aspects of real economic development just to fight a disease that erupted out of nowhere,” he told Reuters on a visit to Washington.

An initial World Bank-IMF impact assessment for Guinea, where the outbreak started in a remote forest region and has killed over 350 people, projects the bauxite exporter's GDP growth will fall from 4.5 percent to 3.5 percent.

Banks offer aid

The World Bank and African Development Bank have committed $260 million to help the three worst-affected countries.

With two Ebola deaths also reported so far in Nigeria, fears are growing about how the deadly virus could affect Africa's top oil producer and most populous nation, as well as the surrounding region.

Farmers flee, revenues fall

The World Bank said agriculture had been hit in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia as rural workers fled farming areas in the affected zones, where some Ebola patients have been shunning medical treatment and hiding away in their villages.

Liberia's Konneh said a slowdown in farming and transport and reduced activity at popular markets could push up prices of essential food items and other goods.

“We're watching inflation. So far it's not been bad – but we're worried about the Lofa food belt, where people are quarantined and major markets closed,” Konneh said. “We expect hoarding by people in urban areas that could drive food prices up.”

In Monrovia, residents said the Ebola emergency, and the fear and suspicion it has generated, was disrupting daily life, affecting everything from street hawking to taxi fares.

“Prices have gone up high. They're charging us as though we were dressed in suits with neckties. Transportation fare is up now,” said Seyon Tweh, a small trader.

Taxi drivers set limits

Because of fear of contagion – Ebola is spread by contact with the bodily fluids of infected humans or animals – taxis were now only taking two passengers in the back instead of the previous four, pushing up fares.

Konneh said the government would prevent price-gouging.

Some major airlines, such as British Airways and Emirates have halted flights to affected countries, and expatriates there are fleeing the Ebola risk, government officials said, adding this reduced consumption and revenues.

“We've seen international workers leaving the country in numbers,” Liberia's Konneh said.

“We're seeing a fall-off in financial receipts due to lower activity at the airport and hotels,” Emmanuel Soussouadouno, a senior official at Guinea's finance ministry, told Reuters.

During overlapping civil wars that lasted more than a decade, Sierra Leone and Liberia were symbols of Africa's “Hopeless Continent” image, with their diamond riches driving a conflict made notorious by amputations and rapes.

Guinea suffered spillovers of refugees and fighters.

But in the decade since peace was restored, the Mano River states have experienced surging growth propelled by foreign investment in mining, oil exploration and construction.

That recovery is now threatened. “This economic challenge comes at a time when all three countries have been enjoying peace and stability after years of interconnected wars and civil strife,” Liberia's Konneh said.

Investors aren’t rushing out

Most major foreign companies operating in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are responding cautiously, reducing staff movements and adopting precautionary health measures.

“Some companies are moving back workers and others have postponed projects to see how the outbreak develops,” said Katie Greary, medical director at International SOS, a travel security risk services company.

The World Bank said if the evacuation of skilled expatriate staff continued, there would be a “sizable decline in production” from mining operations.

The two big iron ore miners in Liberia, Arcelor Mittal and China Union, are still operating, Konneh said. He added, “We are trying to ensure we put in place health protocols in mining areas.”

In the Guinean mining town of Siguiri, where an Ebola isolation ward was opened in July to cope with new cases, AngloGold Ashanti said it was taking health measures but there had been no impact on its operations there.

In the wider region, mining companies are on alert. Perseus Mining, which has mines in Ghana and Ivory Coast, said it has issued health warnings and barred from its sites anyone coming from Guinea, Sierra Leone or Liberia in the last month.

Canadian firm delays oil drilling

Canadian Overseas Petroleum, a partner with oil major ExxonMobil in offshore exploration in Liberia, said it was pushing back the start of drilling.

ExxonMobil declined to comment on personnel but said safety was a top priority. “Our Monrovia office remains open,” it said.

Liberian and Sierra Leonean officials appealed to major investors not to abandon their countries because of Ebola.

“My message is: 'Don't leave the country. Stay with us – let’s fight this together,'" Konneh said.

You May Like

Photogallery Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine May Be in Use by Jan.

WHO assistant director Dr. Marie Paule Kieny says clinical trials of Ebola vaccines are underway or planned in Europe, US and Africa More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7829
JPY
USD
106.96
GBP
USD
0.6195
CAD
USD
1.1258
INR
USD
61.295

Rates may not be current.