Ebola Cripples West African Economies As Fearful Workers Stay Home

Ebola Cripples West African Economies As Fearful Workers Stay HomeSandi Sesay’s boss promised him three months of pay when he told the driver to stop coming to work. The goal was to prevent any possible spread of Ebola at the Sierra Leone mine that employs him.

Two weeks later, Sesay, 29, has yet to see any money from Dawnus Construction Ltd., a contractor at London Mining Plc’s Marampa iron-ore deposit.

“I take care of my mother, my sisters and my wife and three children,” he said at a gas station near his home, wearing jeans and a white long-sleeve T-shirt. “How am I going to cope?”

Sesay’s and Sierra Leone’s prospects were bright before the worst-ever outbreak of the virus. The economy was set to grow 14 percent, almost three times faster than the average in sub- Saharan Africa. In Liberia and Guinea, investment in iron ore was luring billions of dollars and fueling growth.

Then the first case of Ebola appeared in December. Initially tagged as a short-term phenomenon with limited impact, the disease now threatens to cripple three economies with a combined gross domestic product of about $13 billion — less than that of Afghanistan.

Commodity companies are slowing production and airlines are shutting routes. In Liberia, the government says the economic impact threatens to derail progress made since the end of the civil war in 2003. Sierra Leone cancelled the first sale of bonds open to foreigners last week.

Slowing Down

Sime Darby Bhd, the world’s largest palm oil producer, has slowed production in Liberia, while Sifca SA halted rubber output from its plant there. ArcelorMittal, the world’s biggest steelmaker, postponed expansion plans at its iron-ore mine in northern Liberia because contractors moved some of their workers out of the country. London Mining and African Minerals Ltd., which operate in Sierra Leone, have seen their shares fall.

Richard Evans, a spokesman for Swansea, U.K.-based Dawnus, said this was the first he’d heard of anyone not being paid, adding that a “large number” of non-essential staff had been asked not to come to work while getting basic pay.

Africa’s richest man, Nigerian cement magnate Aliko Dangote, has pulled some employees out of his Liberia cement plant and says 1 percentage point of growth may be shaved off the region that includes Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

“It will be a great impact,” Dangote said in an Aug. 5 interview with Bloomberg Television. “But various governments are doing things to tackle the situation.”

Staying Home

Liberia has banned public gatherings and told non-essential government workers to stay home. In Sierra Leone, the government sent hundreds of troops to cordon off the hardest-hit areas. Edmond Saidu, the district agriculture officer in Kailahun District, says the disease killed farmers on cocoa and peanut plantations and rice farms, leaving the crops to rot. Liberia also has closed off afflicted regions.

The Liberian government is even planning to close open-air markets, a measure that will probably push up prices in the capital. At the crowded Duala market in central Monrovia, 17- year-old food seller Mary Kolubah said business had slowed. The wholesale shop where she obtains bags of rice in order to resell them in smaller, paper-wrapped quantities raised prices 10 percent in just a few days, she said.

Nearby, meat seller Amadu Bah, 46, sat idle at his empty stall. Cattle traders have stopped importing cows from Guinea and Sierra Leone because the beasts must cross through infected areas, he said: “I’m out of business now because selling cow meat is the only thing I’ve known since I was 25 years old.” [eap_ad_2] Body Bags

Distrust of government in the three countries runs so deep that officials are still struggling to convince citizens that Ebola exists and isn’t a hoax. The virus exposed limitations of the health care systems that include a scarcity of doctors and thermometers, a shortage of body bags that prevents burials and medical workers neglecting basic hygiene such as hand washing.

The official tally of deaths may underestimate how much the disease has spread, the UN’s health agency said last week. More than 1,200 people have died in the three countries and five have succumbed in Nigeria. The government in Africa’s largest economy has so far managed to avoid a wider outbreak.

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