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Sierra Leone must brace for social and economic shock

UNDP warns….

NOVEMBER 17, 2014  By Mohamed Massaquoi

President Koroma... Difficult times ahead

President Koroma… Difficult times ahead

Sierra Leone must brace up for social and economic shock resulting from the Ebola crisis, according to a new study co-sponsored by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and the UNDP.

“The Economic and Social Impact of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Sierra Leone released on the 14 November, 2014, raises red flags in the wake of the epidemic that has so far claimed over 5,000 lives, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea since it began in early 2014,” says a release from UNDP.

Most notably, the report warns that socio-economic progress made over the last few years has been stopped in its tracks and, in some cases, completely reversed.

“While priority number one must be to stop the spread of Ebola, protecting Sierra Leone from the wider damage caused by this disease is crucial,” the release quotes David McLachlan-Karr, Resident Representative for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Resident Coordinator for the UN in Sierra Leone. “This report is a sobering warning that shows us that Sierra Leone faces a dramatic GDP loss (gross domestic product), significant inflation, and a severe drop in trade and production nationwide across many sectors.”

The report, a synthesis of surveys and analyses by the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, found that disruptions in most sectors will shrink the GDP from a successful 20.1% in 2013, which was close to the fastest economic growth in the world, to a projected 5% for 2014.

Furthermore, shortages in food, foreign currency, and depreciation of the national currency (Leone) will put pressure on the national budget and Sierra Leone’s post-Ebola recovery, the release further stated.

It went on to state that “Quarantined districts and health checkpoints across the country have limited the movement of not only people, but goods as well, which is causing prices to soar and incomes to shrink. People simply have less money to spend on items that are becoming more expensive.”

Ominously, it says “The social implications of Ebola are equally as damaging. With schools closed since the crisis began, children face at least a year of academic set-backs which will impact the future workforce and brain trust; expectant mothers are dying at alarming rates in childbirth due to fear and failed healthcare systems, and 80% of people living with HIV have not been able to access their management treatments.”

“Getting ahead of this crisis is so important,” Mr. McLachlan-Karr said. “We’re committed to not just arresting the reversal of development gains, but to turning the tide against it.”

The study, according to the release, advises policy recommendations for addressing the Ebola crisis with a mind to protecting the most vulnerable. It looks at the value of lockdowns, like the one implemented in September 2014 and seen as a largely successful intervention at the time. While a 21-day lockdown could isolate and assuredly strangle the spread of the virus, it will surely place a significant burden on Sierra Leone’s poorest and most vulnerable.

Some of the other findings are the increased financial instability as borrowers are falling short on loan repayments, which have caused banks to limit new loans and a tightening of financial ranks; the suspension of commercial flights by all but two airlines among others; the health sector has all but ceased to operate for non-Ebola cases, with patients, including pregnant women, too scared to go to hospital or health workers refusing to report for work; plus an increase in gender based violence, with women being at immense risk.

Meanwhile, the report is said to have informed the budget statement for 2015, which was read by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development last Friday in Parliament.