The worst Ebola outbreak in history is slowing down, but the affected countries are only beginning an economic struggle that could last for years.
Just as the U.S. recalled its troops from West Africa, the World Bank pledged millions of dollars in emergency aid to avoid a food crisis that could leave millions starving.
“Agriculture is the lifeline of the economies of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone,” Makhtar Diop, the World Bank's vice president for Africa, said in a Thursday statement. “By speeding supplies of urgently needed seeds of major food crops to communities in West Africa, we are jump starting recovery in rural areas and preventing the looming specter of hunger in the countries hardest hit by Ebola.”
The agency plans to send up to $15 million in emergency funding to buy 10,500 metric tons of maize and rice seeds for 200,000 farmers in time for planting season.
The World Bank will be working with the Economic Community of West African States to create efficient routes for trucks filled with seeds, and make sure they have no trouble with customs.
Crop and livestock production in the affected countries was decimated during the outbreak, which killed more than 8,800 people and affected more than 22,000, according to the World Health Organization. By November roughly half of the Liberian workforce wasn’t working, and authorities warned about the severe economic consequences of months without production -- the most worrisome being a food crisis.
World Food Program data shows that there could be as many as 470,000 people in Guinea classified as “food insecure” by March, the World Bank said. In Liberia there could be as many as 300,000, and in Sierra Leone there could be as many as 280,000. Sierra Leone's most fertile area was also the epicenter of the outbreak. According to the World Bank, some families have resorted to eating the seeds meant to be used for planting, while other crops have been left to die in fields abandoned by farmers.
Poverty and unemployment rates weren’t ideal in the affected countries to begin with, but those problems only worsened as the outbreak continued. Despite billions of dollars in international aid over the years, economists downgraded predictions for economic growth in these countries because their economies could take years to recover from the Ebola outbreak.