Ebola's impact on Africa economy might be less than feared: World Bank

Nearly one-half of Liberia workforce no longer working

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) — The cost of the Ebola epidemic for Sub-Saharan Africa's economy is likely to be closer to $3 billion-$4 billion and not the worst-case scenario of $32 billion, the World Bank's chief economist for the continent said on Wednesday.

Francisco Ferreira said in a lecture in Johannesburg that successful containment of Ebola in some West African countries made the gloomiest forecasts less likely, but the economic damage could still escalate if there was any complacency.

"The risk of the highest case of economic impact of Ebola has been reduced because of the success of containment in some countries. It has not gone to zero because a great level of preparedness and focus is still needed," Ferreira said.

"I would say the outlook has moved closer to the lower case of $3-$4 billion, than the upper case," he said.

In a report in October, the World Bank said that if the Ebola epidemic spread significantly outside the epicentre states of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the potential cost for Africa in disrupted cross-border trade, supply chains and tourism could amount to tens of billions of dollars.

One specific estimate provided by the bank said the regional impact could reach $32.6 billion by the end of 2015 in the worst case scenario.

The bank said a scaled-up global response was needed to prevent this happening. Since then, the United Nations has led international efforts to send more medical personnel to the Ebola zone and increase funding to fight the worst recorded outbreak of the deadly haemorrhagic virus.

The latest WHO Ebola tally on Nov. 14 reported 5,177 deaths out of 14,413 cases, mostly in the three worst-hit countries.

Impact on food, security, work

The World Bank says the impact on the three most affected economies has already been severe, hitting everything from food output to employment levels.

In Liberia, nearly half of those working when the outbreak was first detected in March no longer have jobs as of early November, according to a separate World Bank report on Wednesday, based on surveys carried out via mobile phones.

"Even those living in the most remote communities in Liberia, where Ebola has not been detected, are suffering the economic side effects of this terrible disease," Ana Revenga, Senior Director of the Poverty Global Practice at the World Bank Group, said in a statement accompanying the report.

"Relief efforts must focus not only on those directly affected by the virus, but also on those in the poorest communities for whom market access, mobility, and food security continue to get worse," she said.

More than 90 percent of those surveyed in Liberia worried that their household would not have enough to eat.

The World Bank Group is mobilising nearly $1 billion in financing for the countries worst hit by the Ebola crisis.

Ferreira said that the Ebola crisis had already ravaged tourism in Africa because the "fear factor" kept visitors away from countries even where there had been no cases of the virus, like Kenya and South Africa.

He also highlighted a more than 30 percent drop in global oil prices since June as a major concern for the fiscal stability of African oil producers, particularly the continent's largest crude exporter, Nigeria.

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