The worst-ever outbreak of the Ebola virus is taking a heavy toll on west Africa’s economy as crops rot in the fields, mines are abandoned and goods cannot get to market.
The epidemic has ravaged the region since it erupted in the forests in the south of Guinea earlier this year, killing 1,427 people and infecting thousands more.
On Friday health officials said the fever had spread to every corner of Liberia, the worst-hit country in the grip of the epidemic where 624 people have died so far.
But beyond the mounting death toll, the disease is also undermining the region’s economic growth and threatening the long-term development of some of the world’s poorest countries.
“It is a total catastrophe. We are losing lots of money,” said Alhaji Bamogo, who sells clothes in the market in the Liberian capital Monrovia.
“All those who are coming to the market come only to buy food or products for the disinfection of Ebola,” he said.
Across the resource-rich countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, companies are suspending operations due to fears of the haemorrhagic fever, which is spread through contact with bodily fluids.
Steel giant ArcelorMittal this month said the contractors at its expanding iron ore works in Liberia had suspended operations and were pulling out staff.
Several international airlines have halted their flights to west Africa in a move that Moody’s ratings agency warns “will exact an economic toll” on the region.
And in Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer and most populous country where 15 cases have been identified and five people have died, experts warn that the impact for the regional economy could be dire if the disease takes hold.
“The Ebola epidemic is not just a public health crisis, but an economic crisis… Affecting many sectors of activity,” the president of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka warned this month.
Philippe Hugon, Africa research director at the French think-tank IRIS, said the biggest threat for west Africa is a long-term pullout of global companies that the region relies on.
“Everything depends on whether this stays limited or whether the epidemic continues to spread in a prolonged way. The heads of foreign businesses on the ground are very concerned,” he said.
The epidemic may “reinforce the idea that Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are countries where it is dangerous to live — because of diseases like Ebola and AIDS — and thus to invest in,” he said.