Surveys show continued economic progress in Liberia; a more uneven picture in Sierra Leone, Effects of Ebola on household welfare likely to reach well beyond the end of health crisis
Washington - The return to work continues in Liberia, led by gains for wage workers and the rural self-employed, while the picture remains mixed in Sierra Leone, where urban youth and the non-farm self-employed continued to lag behind. This is according to the latest round of high-frequency mobile-phone surveys conducted in both countries by the World Bank Group and partners, in order to assess how Ebola is impacting people's livelihoods.
This comes as heads of state from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea prepare to meet in Washington, DC at the World Bank Group's Spring Meetings to share their Ebola recovery plans with finance and development ministers and international partners. As Liberia approaches zero cases, and Sierra Leone sees promising declines in infection rates in recent weeks, it will be important to understand where economic recovery efforts should be targeted, and which people within each country need the most attention both now and once the health crisis has fully abated.
"Liberia has made great progress in its fight against Ebola and I have great hope that all affected countries will get to and maintain zero cases," said Makhtar Diop, World Bank Group Vice President for the Africa Region. "Even as these countries implement their respective economic recovery plans, the long-term economic and social impacts of such a prolonged and devastating outbreak will undoubtedly put many families and communities at risk. We and our partners must continue to respond quickly and effectively to support those who need it most."
Statistics Sierra Leone has led the national data collection in that country, with support from the World Bank Group and Innovations for Poverty Action. In Liberia, the World Bank Group has worked closely with the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) and the Gallup Organization to conduct these mobile-phone surveys. Key findings are below.
The employment situation in Liberia continues to improve. A return in wage work and rural self-employment was offset by a typical seasonal lull in agricultural work, so the overall percentage out of work remains similar to January. Women continue to experience the worst job losses - they are typically self-employed, working as traders or in markets, the type of jobs that have been most impacted. Most agricultural households report that their 2014 harvest was smaller than the previous year. These effects are not restricted to areas that have been directly impacted by Ebola, underlining the need to provide broad agricultural support across the country.
Food insecurity remains high, but has seen significant improvement in rural areas. Increases in urban areas have offset the decrease in rural areas, so the national level stayed about the same since January, with just under 75 percent of those surveyed reporting that they were concerned about having enough to eat in the previous week. The use of economic coping strategies such as selling or slaughtering livestock, borrowing money, and delaying investments has also leveled off, a hopeful sign that households are beginning to rebuild lost assets.
The use of public services appears to be rebounding. As schools have re-opened, more than three-quarters of respondents with primary school-aged children reported at least some have returned to school. Older children, however, saw a decline in attendance from last year. In both age groups, parents cited a lack of money as the main barrier to sending children back to school, rather than fear of infection. The cost constraints may be more significant for older children, though, as fees and costs are higher for later years of schooling, and because older children have more income generating potential for the household. In health services, there appears to be a shift from private providers back to public providers, approaching pre-crisis levels.
In Sierra Leone
There are signs of improvement in Sierra Leone, but the economic situation remains uneven. While there have been overall improvements in employment since November - driven by urban areas, youth employment in Freetown has continuously declined and the percentage of non-farm enterprises that are no longer operating has increased fourfold.
Stability of earnings has depended on the employment sector. Wage workers are earning around the same as they did pre-crisis, while those operating non-farm household enterprises are seeing revenues around 54 percent lower than in July-August 2014. Women, in particular, are affected, mostly due to the fact that they are generally working in non-farm household enterprises, the sector most heavily impacted by Ebola.
Food insecurity, which was high in Sierra Leone even before the crisis, continues to be a concern. Nearly 70 percent of households report taking at least one action to cope with food shortages in the week leading up to the survey. Coverage of social assistance thus far reflects the disease-specific targeting of the emergency response, suggesting efforts to reach the poorest will be key as the country moves toward recovery.
Delivery of social services has generally improved. The utilization of maternal care services has increased significantly since November: the percentage of women who gave birth in a clinic up from 28 percent to 64 percent and the percentage who received at least one prenatal visit up from 56 percent to 71 percent. National educational radio programs, working to bridge gaps created by long-term school closings, have reached nearly 72 percent of households with school-aged children, who reported that at least some children listened to these programs.
"As the countries hardest hit by the Ebola look toward economic recovery, data and evidence will be crucial to identifying and reaching those most marginalized by this crisis," said Ana Revenga, Senior Director of the Poverty Global Practice at the World Bank Group. "We will continue to work with our partners to collect and share this information in a timely manner, in order to support their efforts today and down the road." A third round of mobile phone data collection in Sierra Leone is planned for April 2015, to continue to track and highlight the most pressing areas of attention for policy makers as they move toward the economic recovery phase.
In Liberia, this fifth round of data collection will be the last done by mobile phone. The World Bank Group is working with LISGIS to return to in-person surveys now that the infection risk is lower. These will allow for an even fuller understanding of what Ebola's effects have been in that country. Data collection at the household level complements broader efforts to understand the bigger picture, macro-economic impact of Ebola on the affected countries, as seen in a report to be released later this week.