A World Bank Group survey conducted in the worst Ebola hit nations, including Liberia, has painted a bright picture for Liberia while Sierra Leone still lags behind.
So far, Liberia has officially gone at least 19 days (today) without recording a single new case of the virus on its territory while in neighboring Sierra Leone, despite reports of the infection rate dropping, the virus is still raging.
According to the latest round of “high-frequency mobile-phone surveys” conducted in both countries by the Bank and partners, in order to assess how Ebola is impacting people's livelihoods, the return to work continues in Liberia, led by gains for wage workers and the rural self-employed, while the picture remains mixed in Sierra Leone, where urban youth and the non-farm self-employed continued to lag behind.
The survey findings have come at a time when the Presidents of Liberia – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Sierra Leone – Ernest Bai Koroma, and Guinea – Alpha Condé, are in Washington, DC at the World Bank Group's Spring Meetings. The three West African leaders are in the US to share their Ebola recovery plans with finance and development ministers and international partners. Ahead of the Spring Meeting, they met with US President Barack Obama.
“As Liberia approaches zero cases, and Sierra Leone sees promising declines in infection rates in recent weeks, it will be important to understand where economic recovery efforts should be targeted, and which people within each country need the most attention both now and once the health crisis has fully abated,” the Bank said in a release.
"Liberia has made great progress in its fight against Ebola and I have great hope that all affected countries will get to and maintain zero cases," said Makhtar Diop, World Bank Group Vice President for the Africa Region. "Even as these countries implement their respective economic recovery plans, the long-term economic and social impacts of such a prolonged and devastating outbreak will undoubtedly put many families and communities at risk. We and our partners must continue to respond quickly and effectively to support those who need it most."
In Liberia, the Bank has worked closely with the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) and the Gallup Organization to conduct these mobile-phone surveys.
In Liberia, key findings from surveys state, “employment situation in Liberia continues to improve. A return in wage work and rural self-employment was offset by a typical seasonal lull in agricultural work, so the overall percentage out of work remains similar to January. Women continue to experience the worst job losses – they are typically self-employed, working as traders or in markets, the type of jobs that have been most impacted.
The Bank also said that most agricultural households reported that their 2014 harvest was smaller than the previous year. “These effects,” according to them, “are not restricted to areas that have been directly impacted by Ebola, underlining the need to provide broad agricultural support across the country.”
The surveys further stated that food insecurity remains high in the country, but has seen significant improvement in rural areas.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf last Friday, April 9, inaugurated Liberia’s first post-war industrial rice processing and warehousing facility, Fabrar, in Kakata, Margibi County. In her remarks at the facility, she stated that Fabrar’s initiative represents “a major step forward;” adding that it should have been done as a country.
The Bank’s surveys state that increases in urban areas have offset the decrease in rural areas, so the national level stayed about the same since January, with just under 75 percent of those surveyed reporting that they were concerned about having enough to eat in the previous week. “The use of economic coping strategies such as selling or slaughtering livestock, borrowing money, and delaying investments has also leveled off, a hopeful sign that households are beginning to rebuild lost assets.”
“The use of public services appears to be rebounding. As schools have re-opened, more than three-quarters of respondents with primary school-aged children reported at least some have returned to school. Older children, however, saw a decline in attendance from last year. In both age groups, parents cited a lack of money as the main barrier to sending children back to school, rather than fear of infection. The cost constraints may be more significant for older children though as fees and costs are higher for later years of schooling, and because older children have more income generating potential for the household.
“In health services, there appears to be a shift from private providers back to public providers, approaching pre-crisis levels.”
This fifth round of data collection in Liberia will be the last done by mobile phone, the Bank said. They disclosed that they are working with LISGIS to return to in-person surveys now that the infection risk is lower. “These will allow for an even fuller understanding of what Ebola's effects have been in that country.”