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Ebola hits economy

Julius Kanubah in Monrovia / cm September 12, 2014

Liberia’s finance ministry has acknowledged that the ongoing Ebola outbreak has led to a decline of the country’s economic growth. This has forced the government to slash public expenditure.

Image: DW/J. Kanubah

The Ebola epidemic is not just devastating the Liberian population but is also severely crippling all sectors of the country's economy: notably health, trade and education. Liberia is currently experiencing its worst ever crisis since the end of the country's brutal civil war in 2003.

Announcing the fall in projected economic growth rate, Liberia's Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh said Liberia is now in a difficult moment amid the Ebola epidemic. "In all of this, our economy is taking a hit – serious hit," the minister told reporters.

"This year we were projected to grow at 5.9 percent. Last year we grew 8.7 percent. The year before last year (2012), we grew 8.9 percent. Now, working with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the government has revised its growth projection to 2.5 percent."

Desperate times, desperate measures

Minister Konneh said, compared to this year's projected economic growth, the West African nation was witnessing almost a 50 percent decline. "So, fellow Liberians our economy is now in recession. It means that we have to tighten our belts."

As a result of the recession, the country's treasury admitted that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's government was expecting a decline in revenue by about 16 to 20 percent. That means Liberia's US $530 million (410 million euros) budget, faces a deficit of about US $120 million.

Liberians walk past closed shops with policemen patrolling in a street in Monrovia.
Many businesses have shut down as a result of Ebola in LiberiaImage: DW/J. Kanubah

Faced with dwindling resources, Minister Konneh declared that the government had no option but to introduce new austerity measures. "So, those who are in the government, this is not the time to think about largesse. This is the time to be thrifty. Live within your means," Konneh said. "We need to reduce expenditure by 25 percent across the board. We need to reduce foreign travels by 40 percent and save money."

According to Konneh, a recovery plan for the economy is being designed by the government along with its development partners like the World Bank, IMF and the European Union.

Poor at risk

James Kpargoi, a Liberian public policy specialist, told DW, with Liberia already lagging behind in poverty reduction, the slumping of the economy into recession will increase the burden on poor people. "By all measures, when the economy suffers as it is suffering right now, you will find out that people's means of livelihood are greatly affected," Kpargoi said. In his opinion, parents would not be able to afford to put meals on the table for their families.

"There will be a situation of famine because agricultural activities are also being greatly affected by the Ebola crisis." The expert on public policy said he foresees an increase in unemployment because of the shutting down of foreign multi-national companies involved in the mining, construction and aviation industries.

Liberia's Finance Minister Amara Konneh addressing reporters.
Liberia's Finance Minister Amara Konneh has called for reduced government spendingImage: DW/J. Kanubah

Marie Tweh, an elderly trader in Liberia's capital Monrovia, said the current economic hardship is more than the one experienced during Liberia's civil war between 1989 and 2003. "The place I am it's not easy. It is more than the war was fighting," Marie told DW in an interview. "It is affecting me because right now it is this little market I can sell for survival and send my children to school." She said since she is a widow, her children looked up to her for all their needs.

As cases of the Ebola virus continue to increase in Liberia, the recovery and rebuilding of this post-conflict fragile nation could be in jeopardy as it braces itself for the worst in the coming months.