Report: Battling Ebola’s economic consequences

November 11, 2014

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  • In Liberia, the Ebola outbreak has resulted in lower incomes and higher food prices. Most families are now eating fewer meals each day to cope. Photo: Jill Morehead/Mercy Corps

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has devastated communities and killed thousands in the three most affected countries: Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. And while the tragedy of lives lost is heartbreaking, another serious issue lurks just beneath the surface.

Markets have less food, prices are up and people aren’t getting the food they need. In fact, 85 percent of families are skipping meals and eating less to cope with the economic consequences of the outbreak.

That's just one of the findings that our Liberia team uncovered while surveying local communities to learn how Ebola is affecting their everyday lives, even if they aren’t suffering from the disease itself. What our team heard shows a different, but important, side to the outbreak. Read the full report ▸

Since it began spreading more quickly, the focus has largely been on containing Ebola. While strategies like closing borders, restricting transportation and enforcing a curfew are helping, they also have unintended consequences on the markets in Liberia where families purchase everyday goods.

Many weekly markets are shut down and the amount of food getting to those that remain open is limited. Restrictions on transportation within the country have made it more difficult and more expensive for vendors to get items and bring them to market. Those costs are then passed on to the market’s customers and food that's available is now being sold at prices many people can't afford.

In the recent assessment, 66 percent of people also told us that they have experienced a decrease in income since the Ebola outbreak began. Many people are unable to work in the current conditions, with many businesses and workplaces closed, and have no income at all.

The country's agriculture system relies on group labor, which is prohibited under current Ebola-related restrictions, so rice farmers are unable to work. With less income, families can’t buy as much at their local markets.

Vendors at local markets are suffering as a result. “Before Ebola, I sold maybe 10 to 15 bags of peppers per day,” said one vendor in Monrovia. “Now I sell maybe two to three bags. I have eight children, but we’ve had to reduce the amount of rice we eat from 10 cups per day to eight.”

“Without immediate interventions such as emergency cash transfers to vulnerable households, support for farmers and fewer restrictions on the movement of goods, Liberia could be facing a significant food crisis by April or May of 2015,” said Andrea Koppel, our Vice President for Global Engagement and Policy.

We will provide emergency food to families in isolated areas and cash assistance to others who can then purchase goods at nearby markets.

Beyond the direct assistance, making sure there is enough food at the markets is key to keeping Liberian economies alive. We will work with government partners to improve transportation within Ebola protocols and will also provide seeds and tools to help local farmers grow more rice and other food.

“Our work will be trying to ensure that this outbreak doesn’t undermine development gains and, of course, there is a risk of that the longer the crisis plays out,” said Simon O’Connell, our Regional Program Director for West Africa. “Liberia remains one of poorest countries in the world, with tremendous needs. ”

By working to address the broader consequences of the outbreak, we can help Liberia stay on a path to economic recovery and development in spite of this new and difficult challenge.

How you can help

Ebola can be beat. You can help people survive this outbreak and give communities the tools needed to contain the disease. Send emergency relief and long-term solutions to families struggling with Ebola and other hardships around the world. Give now ▸