Amara Konneh: US$200M Needed to Fight Ebola

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The government of Liberia says it needs about US$200 million to fight and defeat the deadly Ebola virus and restore the country’s economy from recession. The country’s Acting Minister of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), Amara M. Konneh, made the declaration in Monrovia on Wednesday, September 17 in reaction to a US$52 million grant provided by the World Bank.

Mr. Konneh witnessed the signing ceremony of the US$52 million grant between the Liberian government and the World Bank via video link from the Bank’s Liberia Country office in Congo Town, outside Monrovia.

This grant money, according to the World Bank Group, is coming directly to the government of Liberia to help with the containment and eradication of the Ebola virus in the country.

Liberia’s Ambassador to the United States of America, Mr. Jeremiah C. Sulunteh signed for the Liberian government while World Bank Group Vice President for Africa Region, Mr. Mahktar Diop, signed for the Bank.

The World Bank’s grant money comes at the time when the Liberian government was on the verge of losing the battle against the Ebola virus due to the lack of money to procure logistics including ambulances, pay health workers, create treatment centers and deal with sustained contact tracing, amongst many others.

The government had declared huge revenue shortfall matched against increased government spending due to the Ebola fight. The economy has been pressed to the point of recession and the government has been forced to revise its projected growth forecast downward for 2014 by 3.4 percent, from 5.9 percent to 2.5 percent.

There is serious threat to the job market as thousands of private and public workers and contractors have been urged to stay home due to the Ebola crisis.

Although companies are still paying most of their full time workers, it is not clear how long will they continue to pay salaries despite the fact that those companies are not operating.

As for contractors, it is obviously clear that most of them are completely out of jobs at both public and private levels.

Worst of all, the country’s major concessions have slowed operations as expatriates have left the country for fear of not contracting the virus. Many small and medium businesses have either shutdown or slowed operations due to the Ebola virus. Ebola has killed over 1,400 people in Liberia alone, with the death toll far approaching 3,000 in the West African sub-region.

In a recent press statement in Monrovia, Minister Konneh warned that the Ebola virus epidemic would lead behind huge cost to the economy if swift international action was not taken to help stop the spread of the disease.

Upbeat by the signing of the World Bank grant on Wednesday, the Acting Finance Minister emphasized that the new grant money would be used in three categories including support to the health system by improving various health facilities across the country, investing in the health workers who are risking their lives on a daily basis and providing food and basic services to various quarantined centers around the country.

He reiterated that the Ebola epidemic has seriously affected the economic sector, particularly the mining and agriculture sectors. “For Liberia this epidemic is creating lots of set-backs for our development agenda, our economy will decline by 3.5 percent this fiscal year which will affect job creation and the livelihood of our citizens,” he stated.

Speaking during the signing ceremony in Washington, D.C, USA Liberia Ambassador Jeremiah Sulunteh expressed gratitude to the World Bank Group for the ‘timely’ help and assured the Bank that the grant will significantly change the result of the battle against the deadly Ebola disease in the country.

“The situation in Liberia is more than a civil war,” Said Ambassador Sulunteh. “Because in a civil war, one can call for ceasefire and talk to various parties involved, but with Ebola there is no ceasefire.”

Earlier this week, the World Bank Group's (WBG) Board of Executive Directors approved a US$105 million grant to finance Ebola-containment efforts underway in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, help families and communities cope with the economic impact of the crisis, and rebuild and strengthen essential public health systems in the three worst-affected countries to guard against future disease outbreaks.

The new World Bank Grant is part of the recent US$200 million Ebola emergency mobilization fund, first announced by the Bank in early August.

The Bank said that its new Ebola Emergency Response (EER) project mobilized US$52 million for Liberia, the country with the highest number of Ebola infections, US$28 million for Sierra Leone, and US$25 million for Guinea.

The allocations were calculated according to the World Health Organization's Roadmap and assessments of the relative severity of the epidemic in each country. The WBG said that it would almost certainly mobilize more financing for the countries since "the immediate response is still significantly under-resourced for the purposes of curbing the outbreak."

Up to 40% of the new grant, which is financed by the World Bank's for the poorest countries-International Development Agency IDA. IDA is a crisis response window that normally helps poor countries recover from severe natural disasters or economic crisis, could also be used for retroactive financing of eligible Ebola containment efforts in the three worst-affected countries.

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