Potential Impact Of Ebola On West African Economies

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Written by Paul Adepoju

Even though Ebola is a viral disease, its ripple effect are far-reaching and can be felt in various sectors of the economies of the affected nations. In West Africa where the disease is rapidly spreading, signs of negative economic impacts are already manifesting.

Last weekend, popular Dubai carrier, Emirates, announced it has suspended flights to Guinea, one of the West African countries hit by Ebola pandemic. The announcement made Emirates the first major airline that had banned flights as a result of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Emirates in a statement said it takes the safety of its passengers as its highest priority adding it would not compromise on the priority.

In addition, Arik Air, Nigeria’s largest airline last week announced suspension of flights to Sierra Leone and Liberia, two countries that are also dealing with the Ebola disease; while Nigeria’s civil aviation authorities had also banned Asky, a pan-African airline which brought the first case of Ebola viral disease to Lagos, southwest Nigeria.

Toyosi Abiodun, a ticketing with one of Nigeria’s major airlines said the last has not been heard on airline and flight suspensions. According to Adiodun, the latest announcement by Emirates could be followed by other similar announcements by major international carriers.

“They are always waiting for one of them to take decisions such as suspending flight operations to a particular destination then others will follow suit after assessing the response to the initial action. I won’t be surprised if several other international airlines make similar announcements in the coming days,” Abiodun said.

When flights to a particular destination are suspended, for the period while the suspension lasts, foreign exchange in several sectors including aviation, tourism and commerce would be affected.

“Airlines are the ones that bring foreign tourists, investors and expatriates to any country. It is therefore logical to say that as long as flights are suspended, there wouldn’t be new tourists visiting the region, even those that are already in the affected areas would be making frantic efforts to leave. The impact would become harder as the suspension enters days, weeks and months,” Abiodun said.

He added it could also make it difficult for volunteers wishing to help in fighting the scourge to gain access to affected countries.

Blow to Medics

“Although many of the big medical agencies either have their own aircrafts or have access to one, individual volunteers who just want to help may be discouraged from visiting if there are no airlines with flights to the countries. They may just decide to stay back and wish West Africa well.”

Chinedu Okpara, an economist however believes the impacts of the disease would affect the economy of countries that are not major oil-producing nations more than those that export crude oil.

“This is one of the few instances where total reliance on oil is actually a good thing because as long as oil is available and the price is right, China, USA, Russia and other big buyers of oil will also find a way to get to the oil rigs and the nations would have enough funds to sustain their economies,” Okpara said.

“But if agriculture, trade and tourism are the fulcrums upon which the economy revolves, as it is in many West African states, urgent actions would be needed to avert dangerous economic outcomes,”

In Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, pandemonium would break out if there was to be a full blown Ebola outbreak. A sector such as small and medium-scale enterprise would collapse completely starting with the informal markets that are patronised daily by thousands of Lagos residents.

Lagos Lock Down

In a typical Lagos market, there are interactions and physical contacts due to competition for small spaces and the haphazard arrangement of the stalls. Thus if there is an Ebola outbreak, such markets would be shutdown to prevent fatal outcomes and widespread infection of previously unexposed individuals.

Nigeria, the leading economy and largest oil producer in Africa, is the most populous country on the continent with a population of over 170 million people.

“It would be very serious if markets in Lagos such as the ones at Oshodi, Tejuosho and several others are shut down in the advent of an Ebola outbreak,” Mayowa Ogunjobi, a Lagos resident said, adding that anything that would affects these markets would cripple the economy at the the citizenry level and the local government would also suffer since there would be great depletion in its internally generated revenues (IGR).

For Daniel Muyiwa, an economist, an Ebola outbreak in Lagos alone could have negative impacts on the economy of other cities: “Like other major markets across Nigeria, Lagos markets are not just patronised by Lagos residents alone, people come from nearby cities and from afar to buy goods and products because they believe some stuffs are cheap here. The case would be similar to what happened when it was difficult to get some foodstuffs from northern Nigeria to other parts of the country due to the security crisis. The impact was felt nationwide, not to talk of those that became unemployed.”

Muyiwa said it was unfortunate that Ebola was still being treated as a medical problem. “It is an assault on the existence of mankind on this part of the world.”

West African countries are already aware of the threats the disease pose to their economies and are making concerted efforts to combat the disease; they are also looking inwards and campaigning from one place to another on what to do to prevent the disease and how to make provisional diagnoses.

But the numerous porous borders still make it possible for infected individuals to move from one country to another, which means the risks remain high.