The Ebola virus belongs to a group of viruses with the potential to cause the virally induced hemorrhagic fever syndrome. The virus causes a fatal disease among the human population with devastating effects owing to the rapid human-to-human transmission. First, the virus appeared in the human population in 1976 starting with two concurrent occurrences in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan (World Health Organization). Thereafter, other outbreaks followed in several African countries, including Uganda, the Ivory Coast, and Gabon. However, the Ebola virus did not gain widespread interest until the recent disease outbreaks in a number of West African countries. The most recent Ebola outbreak is the worst and most complex one with devastating effects on people living in West Africa. The outbreak has wreaked havoc with severely affected countries, including Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. Cumulatively, the Ebola virus has resulted in far-reaching social and economic impacts beyond the confines of the most affected countries, thus expressing the seriousness of this outbreak.
In the recent, news about Ebola outbreak has grown fainter, but people at the epicenter of the epidemic are experiencing devastating social and economic impacts of the Ebola virus. Even after claiming approximately 8,400 lives and infecting over 21,000 people, the Ebola menace is far from over (“New World Bank Report Details Devastating Effects of Ebola in West Africa”). The outbreak is now taking a toll on the lives of people living in the affected countries through a number of social and economic effects. In Sierra Leone and Liberia, the most pronounced socioeconomic consequences are food insecurity and employment loss for the larger population (“New World Bank Report Details Devastating Effects of Ebola in West Africa”). These socioeconomic impacts are just a few of the most devastating effects. Ebola is undermining the economic growth of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia at an accelerating rate. The economic and social impacts have a substantial negative influence on the prosperity and growth in Sierra Leone and Liberia with the poor population experiencing the greatest weight.
Prior to the Ebola outbreak, Liberia and Sierra Leone recorded relatively high GDP growth with a remarkable economic promise. The high economic growth occurred after their respective regimes finally managed to curb the existing civil unrest. Similarly, despite the slower GDP growth, Guinea expected to improve economic performance in the upcoming years with the kickoff of iron ore projects. However, this promising economic progress is slowly going to decrease with the Ebola outbreak. In Sierra Leone and Liberia, economic progress has stagnated and assumed a downward trend because the Ebola outbreak triggered a series of negative economic impacts. In Guinea, declining iron ore prices coupled with the Ebola crisis have undermined economic progress resulting in dwindling profits. Similarly, mining activities and investments, which contribute about 14 and 17 percent to the economic growth of Liberia and Sierra Leone respectively, have declined with the acceleration of the Ebola cases (Sy and Copley).
The Ebola virus epidemic has caused an immense deterioration in export capabilities of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. The viral outbreak disrupts not just production but also the export of commodities throughout the affected countries. For instance, in Liberia, the outbreak has halted the production and exportation of rubber as workers cannot move freely owing to the expanding quarantine zones (Adegun 53). Additionally, exporters continue to experience grave difficulties accessing ports and acquiring the necessary clearing for export. Evacuation of workers is another barrier to export where most companies lack qualified personnel to handle export services. The outbreak is estimated to shrink the GDP growth of the epicenters by 2.3, 1.7, and 2.2 percent in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia respectively (UNDP 16).
In the hardest hit countries, farmers can no longer support the dense population living in urban areas as more breadwinners residing in urban centers continue to lose jobs in Liberia and Sierra Leone. In a recent report, approximately the half of people, who provide their families with daily bread have lost their source of livelihood. In addition, approximately 60 percent of all women remains jobless expressing the deteriorating social conditions in these countries (“New World Bank Report Details Devastating Effects of Ebola in West Africa”). Deteriorating economic capabilities occur amid growing jobs in the healthcare and construction sector demonstrating the anticipated drop in living standards. In non-farming businesses, returns have considerably dropped by about 40 percent (“New World Bank Report Details Devastating Effects of Ebola in West Africa”). The restrictions on travel and movement limit public gathering in entertainment centers, eateries, and bars, thus resulting in narrow spending and declining revenues of such business establishments. In addition, declining income, soaring unemployment, and rising commodity prices have contributed to decreased spending and revenue for household enterprises (UNDP 15).
World Bank reports indicate that virtually 180,000 people no longer work in their previous places of employment (“New World Bank Report Details Devastating Effects of Ebola in West Africa”). The growing number of employment losses is attributed to the indirect consequences of preventive measures set in place to restrict movement and disease spread. In addition, the negative economic impacts might be a consequence of the far-reaching disruption to the economic activities of these countries. According to Joseph Sam Sesay, the Agriculture Minister in Sierra Leone, the economy is hard-hit with a deflation rate of 30 percent (Hamilton).
Although most people remain uninfected, they continue to experience devastating consequences of the outbreak. For instance, the agricultural sector is the worst hit segment considering that roughly 66 percent of the population in Sierra Leone rely on farming for a livelihood (Hamilton). In farming households, food harvests have dropped considerably compared to the previous growing season. The reason for such decrease is the shortage of workers to assist in farm cultivation because of fears of contracting the Ebola virus. Besides, quarantines and other preventive measures have restricted movement throughout the outbreak period, thus limiting the sale of harvested crops and increased cultivation of farm lands. The military working with the police have erected roadblocks, which limit the movement of farm laborers and owners, including the supply of commodities throughout the quarantined areas (Hamilton). As a result, most households in restricted areas cannot access markets or purchase enough food. In Sierra Leone, the population is experiencing looming food shortages contributing to the high likelihood of food insecurity and famine.
Food shortages have triggered inflation with the increasing pressure on the prices of food commodities (Sy and Copley). Prices of Liberia’s staple food have doubled in the recent months creating food price shocks that threaten to increase inflation. The International Monetary Fund estimated a rise in inflation from 7.7 percent prior to the Ebola outbreak to 13.1 percent in the closing quarter of 2014 (Hamilton). This statistics expresses the socioeconomic impact on the affected populations. Rising inflation is partly a product of disruptions in the planting season amid intense quarantine measures aimed at thwarting the further spread of the Ebola virus. Because of these disruptions, the productivity of staple crops like rice, maize, and cassava has declined triggering food shortage and food price shocks.
In the light of the rising food insecurity, most households have adopted short-term coping mechanisms but with long-term economic and social implications. Short-term remedies might harm the welfare and prosperity of the people in affected nations in the long run, as people resort to a number of uneconomic choices. The Ebola crisis is slowing driving households into selling their hard-earned assets, borrowing financial resources, using up the savings, and putting investment into a halt with devastating long-term effects (“New World Bank Report Details Devastating Effects of Ebola in West Africa”). People resorting to these coping strategies are the uninfected parties, which imply that within no time, they will no longer manage to support themselves and their families.
In addition, the economic impacts of the Ebola virus crisis have reverberated in the neighboring countries and the entire African continent in several ways. Countries that have no cases of the Ebola virus outbreak have instituted strict restrictions that limit commodities and movement of citizens (Sy and Copley). Senegal and Cote-D’Ivoire have introduced border closures targeting to restrict movement in order to avert potential outbreaks among their citizens. These quarantines and preventive measures have triggered a drop in domestic and regional trade, as well as tourism.
The measures have affected transport services, restricting travel across borders and other areas within the national boundaries. Transport industry workers have experienced lower returns as zones under quarantine expand. In domestic and international airlines, workers have lost substantial income owing to flight bans to and from the affected countries. Declining transport revenues in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea have triggered a drop in the price of petrol and diesel, resulting in significant losses amid high global fuel prices (Adegun 55). The aviation industry is also losing a massive sum of revenue with the decrease in the number of flights amid travel advisories. Most airlines will soon fall into a state of arrears considering the high expenses and maintenance fees associated with the aviation industry.
The preventive measures also influence informal trade that contributes significantly to the GDP of Western African nations within the range of 20-75 percent (Sy and Copley). In the long run, the declining trade will have a sizeable impact on the countries’ growth potential. Although foreign direct investment flows might have little impact on the short-term economic growth, further deterioration of these flows might extensively affect the long-term one (UNDP 16).
Tour operators across the African continent have experienced considerable losses with the evident drop in business. Safari bookings have fallen miserably by a range of 20-70% demonstrating the devastating economic impacts on the African continent (“Economic Consequences of Ebola: The Ignorance Epidemic”). The fall in safari bookings is associated with the issuance of travel advisories and reduced number of European and American travel agents providing African tours services. Eastern and Southern Africa safari destinations have been worst hit as more aviation companies suspend flights to Africa due to the fears of contracting the Ebola virus. The Ebola outbreak promises to cripple the GDP of sub-Saharan Africa considering the expected drop in safari visits until the outbreak is under control (“Economic Consequences of Ebola: The Ignorance Epidemic”). The worsening state of tourism will eventually trickle down to millions of employees who depend on safari visits for livelihood.
The high spending on emergency responses to the Ebola outbreak is also gradually draining financial resources from tight government budgets halting further development (Jallanzo). Within no time, the epidemic will reverse the economic growth experienced by almost all developing countries. The outbreak might also trigger fresh civil unrest in these countries because of fear of contracting disease and the mounting tension over the closure of airports, seaports, and other travel channels. The eruption of fresh unrest might take these countries to the brink of economic and social breakdown, which might require years of repair to recover.
In conclusion, the initial attack of the Ebola virus did not have far-reaching socioeconomic consequences for the affected countries in comparison with the current outbreak. The current Ebola epidemic has resulted in devastating impacts touching not just the neighboring countries but also the entire African continent. Quarantine measures have rendered most operations impossible as the military and police place roadblocks on all roads to prevent further spread. The most evident economic impacts include domestic and international trade, diminishing food reserves, inflation, disruption of agricultural, transport and mining activities, and declining tourism visits and economic progress. Other socioeconomic impacts are declining living standards, informal trade, loss of employment and revenue, consumption of emergency resources, increased borrowing, and heightened political tensions.