Ebola’s economic toll on Africa is starting to emerge.
The flow of goods across many African frontiers, from Congolese copper crossing the Botswana border to used cars driven into Nigeria, is seizing up on fears that traders could be carrying or catch the killer virus. The trade slowdown comes on top of a drop in tourism and the suspension of commercial flights to West African cities as well as Nairobi, a continental hub.
The upshot: An accelerating continental economy has hit a massive speed bump. The International Monetary Fund projected sub-Saharan Africa would grow by 5.4% this year, but it is now warning that Ebola is set to badly hit growth rates in the countries directly affected.
The Ebola outbreak began in Guinea eight months ago and has since spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. A separate Ebola outbreak has surfaced in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The World Health Organization has warned that the epidemic is likely to accelerate and more than 20,000 people could be infected. Already, more than 1,900 people have died.
Ebola’s economic impact has become so severe that the IMF is now warning that stricken countries could need emergency assistance. Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have all been burning holes in their finances trying to curb the outbreak, and a dramatic downturn in trade—specifically timber and rubber—will compound those troubles.
“What is already clear at this stage is that growth is likely to slow sharply,” said Gerry Rice, a fund spokesman. “Significant financing needs are likely to rise.”
The World Bank and the IMF said recently that the epidemic would shave a full percentage point off Guinea’s growth rate, slowing it to 3.5%.
Sierra Leone’s economy was set to grow by a breakneck 13.9% rate in 2014, and Liberia’s by 5.9%, the IMF predicted earlier this year. While the fund still hasn’t specified how it believes the outbreak will affect those growth rates, the impact is expected to be significant, setting back fragile economies that were beginning to stage convincing economic expansions.
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