Jonathan Ernst / Courtesy Reuters A young girl walks with two bags of cold drinking water in Monrovia, Liberia, October 9, 2005.

The Real Cost of Ebola

Letter From Monrovia

Six days a week, women like Kuma Zay sell brightly colored red and green peppers, onions, and other vegetables in Monrovia’s Gobachop Market. Although larger wholesale markets were initially shut down in the wake of the country’s Ebola crisis, Gobachop and other local markets have remained open throughout. Although Zay and the other women fear they will contract the Ebola virus, they are desperate to provide for their families. “Before Ebola, I sold maybe ten to 15 big bags of peppers per day. Now, I sell maybe two to three bags,” says Zay. “I have eight children, but we’ve had to reduce the amount of rice we eat from ten cups per day to eight.”

Liberia is one of three West African nations experiencing the most serious Ebola virus epidemic in history. And of the three, it is the worst hit, with nearly 3,000 dead, nearly 7,000 infected, and tens of thousands more at risk. The economic costs are also astounding. Since Liberia’s protracted civil war ended a decade ago, the country had achieved a measure of economic progress and stability; just prior to the outbreak of the Ebola crisis, Liberia’s economy was growing at a rate of 5.9 percent. A World Bank report shows GDP growth has dropped to 2.5 percent since the outbreak. As Defense Minister Brownie Samukai recently explained, “Liberia is facing a serious threat to its national existence.”

The bleak economic outlook is compounded in the short term by Ebola containment protocols that are straining food security, market supply chains, and household incomes. To better understand what all this means for the Liberian people—already one of the poorest populations in the world—the global humanitarian organization Mercy Corps conducted a rapid market assessment in Lofa and Nimba Counties and parts of Monrovia between October 3 and 13. The research team held 122 household surveys, 122 vendor surveys, 20 focus group discussions, and 65 key informant interviews. The results confirm the seriousness of the problems Liberia now faces.

MAKING DO WITH LESS

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