Lasting Social and Economic Impacts of Ebola - English

Recovery Starts Now

By Abdoulaye Mar Dieye6.01.2015Economics, Global Policy

Even after the last cases of Ebola are reported in West Africa, the epidemic will have a lasting impact on the fragile economies of the countries worst affected. Investing in recovery now is the best way to avoid another health crisis in West Africa.

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The social and economic impact of the Ebola crisis will be felt up to a decade after the disease has been eradicated. In Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, virtually every sector has suffered as a result of the epidemic. For example, based on “UNDP’s most recent estimates()”:http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/librarypage/crisis-prevention-and-recovery/undp-s-policy-notes-on-the-economic-impact-of-the-ebola-virus-in/, Liberia could experience negative GDP growth for the first time since the war ended 11 years ago, reaching -1.8 percent, while in Sierra Leone, forecasts for 2014 may have to be cut from 11.0 percent to 2.2 percent.

In all three countries, air traffic is down, mining and palm oil concessions have been badly affected, and so have farming and small trade, crippled by quarantines and movement restrictions. The crisis is also impairing the ability of governments to raise taxes and invest in infrastructure and social services. For instance, more than 800,000 women will give birth during the next 12 months. But with the severe shortage of health facilities and professionals, compounded by the fear of getting infected in a clinic, many could die without proper care. Five million children are out of school because their classes have shut down.

Three necessary steps

Whereas life before Ebola was starting to improve, people are now struggling again with uncertainty. Besides the personal loss and the stigma, the immense majority are finding it more difficult to find jobs, get services and make a living. In Sierra Leone, for instance, per capita income fell by USD 71 between January and October, while in Guinea, 42,000 jobs have been lost in the potato business. This number is only a small portion of the ballooning job losses expected across the region. While we must continue to focus on stopping the epidemic, treating the sick and preventing new outbreaks, the international community also needs to start thinking about how to help the three countries recover.

First, by reviving local economies and the livelihoods of millions of individuals and households. Doing so will both immediately improve lives and enable people to withstand shocks over time. That support would entail a combination of social safety nets for the most vulnerable – such as cash transfers, emergency jobs and cash-for-work – combined with an economic support package that includes financing for microenterprises and building skills among the local workforce.

Second, by helping to overhaul public health systems. In 2012, the most recent year for which numbers are available, there were only ten doctors for every 100,000 inhabitants in Guinea, 2.2 doctors in Sierra Leone and 1.5 doctors in Liberia. Building better health systems will require sizeable investments in decentralized health facilities, staff, equipment and research. That can start to happen during the emergency phase. For instance, training personnel to identify the sick, treat patients, manage caseloads, and dispose of waste can build long-term medical expertise and logistics for non-Ebola situations.

Third, by transforming the way development is planned and decisions are being taken. Having experienced years of war and political instability, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are characterized by weak social cohesion, limited trust in central governments and a lack of resources and empowerment at the local level. Strengthening local authorities so they can effectively address the needs of their constituencies, building trust, and preventing conflict is a long-term endeavor. But the emergency response to Ebola, which requires districts and communities to team up and tackle a single cause, holds the promise of accelerating that process.

Recovery cannot be an afterthought

Recovery cannot be an afterthought. When the last case of the Ebola virus has been cured, humanitarian efforts will scale back, and communities will face the daunting task of having to rebuild their lives. Investing in recovery is the smartest way to look forward again. If we work now to build more robust economies and health systems, while creating stronger societies and institutions, we will minimize the chance of seeing another Ebola crisis in our lifetime. As the leading agency on early recovery, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is working under the overall UN umbrella to stop the epidemic and help Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone recover from it.

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