Ebola: Recovery needs to start now
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, Liberia could experience negative GDP growth for the first time since the war ended 11 years ago, reaching -1.8 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. Because national economies are coming to a standstill, the crisis is 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.
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.
Second, by helping to overhaul public health systems.
Third, by transforming the way development is planned and decisions are being taken.
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.