The last time I heard Liberians cry so much from dire economic quagmire was during the civil war. But it seems that the people of this tiny West African country widely regarded as Africa’s oldest independent state are once again bracing themselves up for not the sounds of the bullet and daunting challenges it posed to them during the war, but for the Ebola virus…known as one of the deadliest viruses in human history.
According to medical doctors, Ebola was discovered in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1974. Medical practitioners report that the deadly Ebola virus claimed the lives of hundreds of people in that country. Ebola, according to scientists, can be contracted mainly by coming in physical contact with someone who is already infected with the virus and sick from it. It can also be contracted if an uninfected person comes in direct contact with the blood, sweat and sometimes the spite of someone infected with the virus.
Up to date, no cure has been found for the lethal Ebola virus. Now the virus has made its way to the West Coast of Africa. It started in Guinea sometimes in February, 2014 and crossed over to Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Health authorities in the three countries are struggling to contain the virus amidst limited resources and poor medical facilities. According to health authorities from the three countries, over 750 people have died from Ebola within the Mano River Union (MRU) basin. Our business desk has been following how the Ebola outbreak is gradually dealing a significant blow to Liberia’s economy.
The Ebola outbreak in Liberia has created fear among investors, most of whom our business desk is told, are considering reducing their foreign staff in the country if nothing is done to speedily contain the spread of the virus. Employees of some of the foreign companies here have anonymously begun harboring fear about the economic consequences they would endure if any one of the foreign companies chooses to slow down operations in the country. “I know what will happen if I lose my job. I would die from frustration because this is the only job I have to sustain myself and my family,” Abraham K. Kamara, a heavy duty driver for a foreign company said.
Between 2006 and 2010, the government of Liberia (GOL) attracted over US$16 billion foreign direct investment (FDI) to Liberia. Interestingly, most of these investments are in the agriculture and mining sectors. The sum of these investments has already created thousands of skilled and unskilled sustainable jobs Liberians.
Many airlines have already suspended flight to Liberia further igniting public fear that other foreign businesses may follow suit, even though no company has made public statement on the issue.
Global oil palm giant Sime Darby, who is operating in two of the counties affected by the Ebola outbreak, remains committed to Liberia as the company, through its foundation, has contributed US$157,000.00 to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to carry out Ebola awareness programs and campaigns in Liberia.
Transportation Fares Soar
On the other front, drivers have increased transportation fares as the government urges vehicle owners to take not more than three commuters to the back seat. Prior to this measure coming into force, taxi cab drivers carried four passengers to the back. The measure is part of several other measures taken by the government to contain the spread of the Ebola virus.
But commuters have been made to pay nearly double for the remaining one seat in every taxi cab. Fares for commuters coming from and going to Paynesville Red Light varies as some of them are charged to pay L$120.00 or above, while some taxi cabs charge L$100.00 for one way trip.
Commuters are also being charged L$100.00 from central Monrovia to Barnesville. Drivers have blamed the increment to rising petroleum price (L$375.00 for pump price) and the government’s mandate requiring them (drivers) to take only three to the back. The commuters have meanwhile called on the government to intervene and strike a fair transport fare to their respective destination instead of leaving the drivers to levy fares.
It will not be a surprise if the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) reports a dip in the consumer price index for the 3rd quarter. Consumer spending on some key household materials except sanitizers and bleach products seems to be declining as more consumers appear to be holding back spending as a result of the Ebola outbreak and other factors.
This is chiefly because more households are seemingly finding it difficult to purchase their needs because of the Ebola fear.
It has been observed that more people have suspended some of their extra activities that gave them financial leverage because of the spread of the deadly Ebola virus. Strolling down Water Street yesterday, most business outlets that sell non-food items such as clothes, electrical products and dishes, etc, were partially empty.
According to storekeepers, people are not too interested in buying their products except bleach and sanitizers which are being widely used to contain Ebola. The prices of sanitizers and bleach products have however double. But this reason may not be enough to address our reporter’s question.
One of the underlining reasons for which consumers spending have reduced could be traced to the government’s decision to urge its non-essential staff to stay home. These government employees are in their tens of thousands.
Mind you, most of these government workers get their daily food money when they go to work.
So, by staying home, they have been indirectly denied from getting that daily food money thereby constraining them to hold back the little cash they may have on hand because they don’t know when they will be recalled to work. What a tough economic condition Liberians are enduring!