Why unchecked Ebola outbreak could crash West Africa's economy

The World Bank estimates that if the epidemic spreads throughout West Africa it could set back the regional economy by as much as $32.5 billion in direct and indirect costs. The US recorded its first Ebola fatality today. 

Daniel Flynn/Reuters
A health worker checks the temperature of a man at a roadside health checkpoint outside Ganta, Liberia, on Wednesday. The Ebola outbreak in the West African country continues to spread, with a recorded death toll of 2,210, the World Health Organization said.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa could cost the region’s economies $32.5 billion by the end of 2015 if the epidemic isn’t quickly contained, the World Bank said Wednesday. An effective containment that prevents its spread throughout the region, however, would have a much lower economic impact. 

The three worst affected countries – Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone – are already feeling the strain, and not just from the costs of combating the disease. Economists warn that in an age of globalization, nearby countries also face economic pressures of their own, even if they’re able to prevent the disease from crossing their borders.

David Evans, a senior economist at the World Bank, told the Associated Press that the epidemic has already forced mining operations to halt, businesses to close, and farming and investment to slow in West Africa. Prices of staple goods are shooting up while food supplies are dwindling across the region, the New York Times reports. Economic growth rates are projected to plummet as a result.

Most African countries have cancelled flights and closed their borders to Ebola-affected countries. Several international airlines, including British Airways, have also suspended flights to and from affected countries, further limiting international trade and business.

Given the fragile state of most West African economies, Forbes contributor Tim Worstall wrote in an opinion article that, “it’s entirely possible that the economic effects of Ebola will kill more than the disease itself.”

In such poor economies the absence of economic growth kills people: let alone what happens when economies start to shrink. With so many people at or just above the subsistence level it doesn’t take much of even a slowdown in the economy to push some of them below it.

The World Bank said Ebola’s trajectory was highly uncertain, but that failing to prevent its spread to neighboring nations could be economically catastrophic. Even if the disease is rapidly contained, the bank estimates the economic impact at over $9 billion. To put this in context, the combined GDP of the three worst affected countries in 2013 was $13.1 billion, according to the World Bank. 

"The international community must find ways to get past logistical roadblocks and bring in more doctors and trained medical staff, more hospital beds and more health and development support to help stop Ebola in its tracks," said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim in a statement.

National Public Radio reports that the epidemic threatens economic interdependence across Africa:

Zemedeneh Negatu, managing partner for Ernst and Young in Ethiopia, says that the Ebola virus has awoken old African distrusts. "If this is the reaction we have when we have one outbreak," he says, "Then how are we going to continue to be Pan Africanist? How are we going to be saying we're going to grow together as Africa?"

Negatu says that just as with the Asian Tiger economies, African nations have to trade more with each other to grow economically. Ebola, he says, has exposed "the fault lines" in intra-African relations.

Five months into the epidemic, Ebola has killed more than 3,400 people and infected at least twice as many in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, the World Health Organization estimates. The Centers for Disease Control estimated last month that the disease could infect 1.4 million people within four months, a worst-case projection. 

The first Ebola patient diagnosed in the US died in a Dallas hospital Wednesday, the AP reports.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Why unchecked Ebola outbreak could crash West Africa's economy
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today