Since the first reported outbreak in December 2013, the Ebola virus disease (EVD) has exacted a heavy toll in human suffering in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Over 21,000 people have been infected, 8,000 have died, many more people have lost wage-earning family members and children have been orphaned. Even as the march of the disease shows signs of abating, and new concerns arise that the virus is mutating, economic losses are mounting.
According to latest World Bank Group estimates, the three countries will lose at least US$1.6 billion in forgone economic growth in 2015 as a result of the epidemic.
The agriculture and food sectors and farming activities are an economic mainstay of all three countries; the Ebola crisis risks deepening poverty and increasing hunger particularly in rural areas where poverty is entrenched. The flight of rural workers and an inability to work in groups due to fear of infection in both affected and non-affected zones has complicated the harvest and risks compounding the crisis even further. It will be critical to focus on the agricultural sector as a driver of economic recovery and a key component in ensuring the longer-term welfare of the most vulnerable in all three countries.
Since mid-2014, these three economies have seen flat or negative income growth, pushing people deeper into poverty. In 2014, growth rate in Guinea collapsed to 0.5%, down from 4.5% prior to onset of the crisis. In Liberia, growth fell to 2.2% compared to 5.9% projected before the crisis. Sierra Leone’s growth rate fell by more than half, to 4% from a projected high of 11.3%.