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The Ebola crisis in West Africa differs from other emergency situations in almost every way.
This is not a crisis where needs can quickly be identified, supplies distributed and measures implemented to put people, communities and the economy back on track.
The situation is getting more serious every day. While the number of Ebola cases are doubling every three weeks, the virus also keep taking an increasing economic toll, affecting the poorest half of the Liberian population who lives in conditions of extreme poverty, the hardest.
Emmanuel T. Tumbey, General Manager of the Liberia Marketing Association, said his members are severely affected by the crisis, especially those selling bush-meat, which has been banned due to the risk of contagion, but also those selling other goods, due to high prices, travel restrictions and closed borders.
Commodity exports, such as iron ore, palm oil and rubber form the backbone of Liberia's economic growth. It is striking, though perhaps not surprising, that workers in these particular branches of the economy are also among those hardest hit by poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition.
According to a recent report produced by Liberia’s Ministry of Agriculture, about 75 percent of mine-workers, more than 70 percent of those working in the palm oil industry and about 63 per cent of those working on rubber plantations suffer severely to moderate food insecurity. The economic slow-down currently caused by the Ebola-epidemic has exacerbated the situation further.
“People survive by eating what they grow in their own gardens, and by selling vegetables from their back yards,” said Deroe Weeks, Director of Food Security and Nutrition Programme at the Ministry of Agriculture. “For the bush-meat hunters, there are not many alternative livelihoods. Food insecurity will increase,” she said.
Liberian businessman Amin Modad who is leading an economic recovery strategy initiative said two of the main obstacles for Liberian businesses are the lack of skilled entrepreneurs and lack of access to credit. But, he adds, the situation now is acute. “I have loans to pay. If it continues like this, I will not make it.”
UNDP is now reprogramming its resources in Liberia to meet a range of Ebola-related challenges. So far, UNDP’s support helped strengthen coordination of assistance at the country level, promoted social mobilization, as well as organized Ebola sensitization and preventive awareness campaigns in all 15 counties in Liberia.
“Massive social mobilization, awareness creation and active engagement of the society are necessary if we are to stand a chance to contain Ebola,” said UNDP Country Director for Liberia, Kamil Kamaluddeen. “The risk of social unrest and violence is likely to escalate as the situation continues to deteriorate.”
UNDP has also provided expertise to enhance information management capacities, and supplied vehicles to improve the national response capacity of the Command Centre for coordination, surveillance and case management.
A team of UNDP experts is helping to improve crisis response capacity at the national and local levels, and design measures to revitalize the economy, including a wide-reaching social protection plan--cash transfers to the poorest part of the population.
Another specific area where UNDP will provide support is reducing the spread of infection in prisons by training selected corrections officers to prevent outbreaks, and uphold the human rights of inmates, strengthening prison health facilities, and improving the diet of inmates.
UNDP has been designing response and recovery efforts. Its staff is ensuring that the health response is integrated and coordinated. It is also working to ensure that the response is inclusive by helping meet some of the pressing needs of the most-affected communities.
This focus is essential so that the services that support livelihoods and hold communities together can be quickly restored. By helping communities, Liberia can more effectively begin to move beyond the epidemic by accelerating the recovery effort and returning the economy and society to a path of longer term development.
With the dramatic toll the Ebola crisis is taking on individuals, communities and the economy, the income structure in Liberia could be severely affected.
As families lose their breadwinners, livelihoods disappear and prices of commodities, health services and other emergency expenses increase, the social fabric of the country could change.
“In this scenario, social protection mechanisms will contribute to improving stability and security, and make the Liberian society as a whole more robust and resilient,” said Kamaluddeen.