Sunday, November 16, 2014 8:42 am
Ebola-hit Sierra Leone faces social and economic disaster as gains made since the country’s ruinous civil war are wiped out by the epidemic, according to a major study released weekend.
Damage to most sectors of the economy will see growth shrink from 20.1 percent last year to just five percent in 2014, the finance ministry and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) found.
“While priority number one must be to stop the spread of Ebola, protecting Sierra Leone from the wider damage caused by this disease is crucial,” said David McLachlan-Karr, the UN chief in Sierra Leone.
“This report is a sobering warning that shows us that Sierra Leone faces a dramatic GDP loss, significant inflation, and a severe drop in trade and production nationwide across many sectors.”
The report, “The Economic and Social Impact of Ebola Virus Disease in Sierra Leone”, brings together research by the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.
It warns that shortages in food and foreign currency, as well as depreciation of the leone, will put further pressure on the recovery.
At the end of the conflict in 2002 some 50,000 people had died, public services were non-existent and the economy was in tatters.
But market reforms and improved governance has since seen the mining sector attracting unprecedented investment and creating thousands of jobs and the country was on the slow road to recovery.
The government launched a three-day shutdown in September to contain the virus and has placed five districts under quarantine, containing almost half the population of six million.
Lockdowns and health checkpoints have limited the movement of food and commodities, causing prices to soar and incomes to shrink, the UNDP said.
Children face at least a year of academic disruptions while expectant women are dying in childbirth at “alarming rates” due to fear of hospitals and a collapsed health service, it warned.
“The health sector has all but ceased to operate for non-Ebola cases,” the report says.
“Many healthcare workers, who are the most at risk for contracting the Ebola virus, have stopped reporting to work, forcing clinics and hospitals to close.
“Meanwhile, patients suffering from non-Ebola conditions are avoiding any professional health care putting them at risk of harm and even death from common preventable disease.”
The government said growth was so far even worse than the projection in the report, standing at four percent on-year in 2014.
Finance minister Kaifala Marah confirmed the figure as he presented parliament with the country’s 3.3 trillion-leone ($755 million, 608 million euro) budget for 2015.
He said the government had spent 80 billion leones fighting Ebola and had lost 390 billion leones in taxes, as two-thirds of Ebola cases were in the economically active 15 to 55 age group.