April 21, 2015 By Amadu Lamrana Bah – Reporting from the Spring Meetings in Washington DC
The headquarters of the World Bank Group in Washington D.C. was the centre of attention on Friday April 17th as Presidents of the three West African countries most affected by the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak participated in an economic recovery roundtable.
Chaired by the Bank’s President, Jim Yong Kim, and attended by the International Monetary Fund Managing Director, Christine Lagarde and other international partners, the meeting culminated in the announcement of a new support of US$650 million to the three affected countries during the next 12 to 18 months. Kim announced the new funding from the International Development Association (IDA), the Bank’s fund for the poorest countries.
This follows the presentation of a recovery plan by the Presidents of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone; countries most hit by the Ebola epidemic. The new funding is on top of the nearly US$1 billion that the Bank previously committed for the Ebola emergency response and early recovery efforts from the IDA (US$518 million) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) (US$450 million).
This assistance further comes on top of US$2.17 billion in debt relief during 2015-17. This debt cancellation will save the three countries about US$75 million annually in debt repayments.
“Even as we work relentlessly to get to zero new Ebola cases, the international community must help Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone jumpstart their recovery and build a safer, more prosperous and resilient future for their people,” said Kim.
He went on to state that the world has acknowledged that the international community was slow to react to the Ebola outbreak and by showing that they have learnt their lesson, they should support an effective and sustainable recovery that also prepares these countries (and the rest of the world) for the next pandemic.
“I will want to commend the three Presidents of the affected countries for their show of leadership during such a challenging time, and will as well assure them that we will continue to give our support in ending Ebola and the recovery stage,” he added.
Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, on behalf of her colleagues, commended the World Bank Group, IMF, UN and other partners for what she described as “their continued show of solidarity and unprecedented support to the three affected countries”.
She stated that each of the countries faced significant economic challenges in 2014 and continues to do so due to the decline in global prices of iron ore, adding that the challenge quickly became a national and regional crisis when the Ebola virus broke out.
President Sirleaf lamented the impact of Ebola on the economy of the three countries, saying that it has been profound and has caused decline in growth – lowering agriculture production and revenue generation thereby increasing job losses.
“On the road to recovery, we have formulated a sub-regional economic recovery program that will ensure the three affected countries return to stability and prosperity,” she said.
The Liberian President also articulated the Marshall Plan that they have developed, which she said requires the commitment of the World Bank President and other leaders to ensure that the goals and objectives are achieved in two years period of implementation.
“Even though we are aware that the resources required are significant, we believe that with the support of international partners this plan is achievable,” she said.
Within the Marshall Plan the indicative cost to bring the three countries to full recovery is US$8 billion of which US$4 billion will largely focus on building a sub-regional recovery program within a two-year period. Therefore President Sirleaf appealed for the cancellation of the external debts of the three affected.
As the cases of new Ebola infection continue to subside in the region, Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma however warned against complacency at the international level and thus called for a more coordinated plan by the partners so that they will not get anything wrong.
“We must not be overexcited and allow complacency take over,” said President Koroma. “We must co-ordinate well and work together to ensure that we get to zero and stay there because until we achieve that we are still not yet out of the woods.”
Whilst calling for timely support to address some of the issues, President Koroma said more attention should be paid to the vulnerable groups like women, orphans, survivors and youths who have been hardly hit by the epidemic.
In line with the three countries’ recovery plans, the five priority areas for the additional IDA funds include: strengthening health systems and frontline care; agriculture; education; cash transfers and other social protection programs; and lifesaving infrastructure such as electricity, water, sanitation and roads.
The funds will also be used to develop a regional disease surveillance system across West Africa that will help prevent or contain future pandemics.
According to the World Bank’s latest economic update on January 20, 2015, important differences among the three countries are emerging. The new report finds that Sierra Leone is now facing a severe recession with the potential for an unprecedented -23.5% growth rate in 2015, resulting from financial issues that led to the closure of iron ore mining. Liberia is gradually returning to normalcy, with a projected GDP growth rate of 3% in 2015, higher than in 2014 though still well below pre-Ebola estimates of 6.8%. Guinea’s economy continues to stagnate, with a projected growth of -0.2% for 2015 compared to pre-Ebola rate of 4.3%.
As a result, the World Bank says additional international financing is urgently needed to help the three countries recover fully and reclaim the positive development and growth paths that prevailed before the Ebola epidemic struck West Africa. The pace of recovery in these countries will also depend on how effectively their recovery plans can be carried out.
Credit: Development and Economic Journalists Association-Sierra Leone (DEJA-SL).