The Ebola crisis: reversing development gains in Liberia
15 Sep 2014 by Antonio Vigilante, Deputy Special Representative for Recovery and Governance
As the Ebola crisis continues to take a toll on people’s lives and livelihoods in West Africa, the focus is increasingly not just on the health aspects of the crisis, but also on its social and economic consequences.
Sure, the human and medical aspects of the crisis are still on the front burner, as they should be. The public health care system has all but collapsed, while the number of Ebola cases is increasing exponentially.
Before the current crisis, Liberia’s economy experienced impressive growth rates of up to 8.7 per cent (2013). Future growth figures will now have to be revised, as economic activities have slowed down dramatically in most sectors.
But the impressive recent growth in Liberia has not been equitable or inclusive.
About 57 per cent of the country’s approximately 4 million inhabitants live below the poverty line and 48 per cent live in conditions of extreme poverty.
The lack of equitable, inclusive development means that more than half of the country’s population—especially women and children--is particularly vulnerable to shocks and crises, ultimately making the whole country less robust, less stable, and less able to handle a crisis of any magnitude.
Reduced tax revenues as a result of reduced economic activity go hand in hand with a decrease in the government’s ability to respond to the crisis. Soon, this is likely to impact salary payments for public employees and could paralyze the country further. Trust in the government is also on the line as it becomes increasingly unable to protect its citizens and deliver the services they desperately need.
At the same time, prices of locally grown and imported foods are increasing as the state of emergency, military road blocks and restricted travel slow down trade. The trend is amplified by a vicious cycle of falling consumer demand and shrinking levels of income.
In this scenario, it is crucial to put in place adequate social protection mechanisms, as the fall in disposable income make families unable to afford food, health services and emergency expenses. This would not only contribute to improving social stability and security, but would also make Liberian society as a whole more robust and resilient.