/ 26 February 2015

‘Marshall plan’ needed to rescue Ebola-ravaged countries

Tombstones at a cemetery at the Kenama Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone
Tombstones at a cemetery at the Kenama Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone

Leaders of the three West African countries worst affected by Ebola will meet donors and partners in March to discuss how to regenerate their economies.

The outbreak of the disease in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, combined with a fall in commodity prices, has interrupted a period of growth in the three countries’ economies, worn down by decades of war and corroded by corruption.

The countries will present recovery plans at a summit in Brussels, which will bring together representatives from the United Nations, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and nongovernmental organisations.

Oxfam has already called for a multimillion-dollar Marshall plan to rebuild the economies of the three countries, a reference to the US aid programme introduced to speed Europe’s recovery after World War II. To that end, the organisation wants an international pledging conference.

Sierra Leone and Liberia were among the fastest growing economies in Africa before Ebola struck, with growth rates of 20% and about 8% respectively in 2013. Growth in Guinea was approximately 2.5%.

But these countries are also among the poorest in the world and their citizens have not shared in the wealth generated by abundant minerals in the Noughties commodities boom.

Apart from the human cost of Ebola – more than 9 100 deaths and nearly 23 000 cases, mostly in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea – the economic damage has been immense. The World Bank estimates that nearly 180 000 people in Sierra Leone have lost their jobs. In Liberia, half of the heads of households are out of work as a result of the outbreak.

Women were among the hardest hit in Liberia as they account for more workers in the nonagricultural self-employed sectors.

Deep concern
One message coming from traditional donors is that the recovery must be owned and managed by the governments of the three countries. Donors can and should provide money but must not dictate the process. Paul Valentin, international director for Christian Aid, said there was deep concern in Sierra Leone that the recovery process would be dictated from outside.

“We need to work with local capacity. We need to empower the Sierra Leonean government to do the right thing, because if it is seen as an imposition from outside, the sustainability of whatever is put in place is going to be in jeopardy from day one,” he said.

There are fears that persistent corruption could derail any recovery. In January, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf described corruption as a “vampire of development and the obstruction of progress” and asked lawmakers to fight “this devil that … makes us slaves to vested interests”.

There is evidence that the struggle against Ebola in Sierra Leone may have been hampered by misuse of government funds.

A recent report by the auditor general found that the country failed to account fully for nearly a third of the $20-million it received to fight Ebola during a six-month period last year. – © Guardian News & Media 2015