WASHINGTON: The World Bank warned on Wednesday that fear of the deadly Ebola virus is choking off economic activity in West Africa with potentially “catastrophic” results.
The “fear factor” is spurring even people unaffected by the disease to pull back on their work activities — in farming, mining, manufacturing or other areas — so that they are producing less, earning less and spending less.
That is exacerbating the already heavy burden Ebola is exacting on the finances and health systems of the three hardest-hit countries.
“If the virus continues to surge in the three worst-affected countries — Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone — its economic impact could grow eight-fold, dealing a potentially catastrophic blow to the already fragile states,” the World Bank said.
In the bank’s worst-case analysis, with only slow containment of the disease, economic growth in Liberia next year could fall by 11.7 percentage points, plunging the country deep into recession with a 4.9 per cent contraction.
In Sierra Leone, the worst-case impact could be 8.9 percentage points lost from growth in 2015, and in Guinea, 2.3 points.
The World Bank, however, said that the mobilization in recent days of more resources to fight the disease, which has left more than 2,400 people dead, could mitigate much of the economic damage.
“The primary cost of this tragic outbreak is in human lives and suffering, which has already been terribly difficult to bear,” said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. “But our findings make clear that the sooner we get an adequate containment response and decrease the level of fear and uncertainty, the faster we can blunt Ebola’s economic impact.”
The clear slowdown in economic output due to the disease is hitting government finances in countries already dependent on support from the World Bank, the IMF and others for fiscal stability.
A key issue, the World Bank said, is containing the spread of fear of the disease, which has spurred people and companies to cut back economic activities.