(By Stella Dawson/Reuters News Agency)
WASHINGTON, April 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation)- – The three West African countries devastated by the Ebola crisis unveiled a $8 billion regional recovery plan on Friday and asked for urgent international support to rebuild their healthcare systems, feed their people and create new jobs.
Calling it a Marshall Plan like the post-World War Two recovery for Europe, the leaders of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone said they need half the money within two years. Their urgent priority is to finish wiping out the deadly virus that has claimed over 10,000 lives and to support economic recovery.
"Ebola is like a war on our countries, and that is why we call on you to come up with new funds to face the consequences of this disease," Guinean President Alpha Conde told an Ebola recovery summit held at the World Bank in Washington.
The development bank estimates economic losses in the three countries will reach $2.2 billion this year alone, up from $1.6 billion forecast three months ago, largely due to the global collapse in commodity prices and a shutdown in Sierra Leone's mining industry.
To jumpstart their recovery, the World Bank and foreign donors pledged $1.06 billion at the Friday summit, some of which will be unused funds from the $5.68 billion committed last year to fight Ebola. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon set a July 15 date for a funding conference in New York.
"We have to stand by these countries, even as the health crisis ebbs," Ban said.
While the Ebola epidemic is retreating, eradicating the last few cases in remote areas will prove even more challenging, he said.
The World Health Organization announced 37 new cases in the week to April 12, down from 150 cases four weeks earlier. Of those, 28 were recorded in Guinea, nine in Sierra Leone and none in Liberia.
Under the regional redevelopment plan the three countries would build a West Africa centre for disease control so they can quickly test and track disease outbreaks, a resource that was sorely lacking when Ebola exploded in 2014.
Their healthcare systems, under funded and in tatters after civil wars even before the outbreak, also need reconstructing.
Seth Berkley, chief executive of the global vaccine alliance GAVI, warned that lack of drugs, equipment and trained health workers is so dire that the three countries risk losing even more people to preventable diseases such as measles and diarrhoea than died during the whole Ebola crisis.
Oxfam International said it estimates $1.7 billion is required to rebuild health systems in Ebola-affected countries.
"It is crucial that the world does not turn away once the Ebola crisis is brought under control if we are going to prevent outbreaks from striking again," said Winnie Byanyima, its executive director.
Apart from healthcare, the recovery plan calls for investing in education and training, agriculture, the private sector and in infrastructure to promote trade within the region as well as to attract foreign investment in mining and agriculture.
Sierra Leone has suffered a double blow. The collapse in global prices for iron ore, which accounts for half its exports and 25 percent of its GDP, led mines to close, the World Bank said.
In its updated economic outlook the World Bank forecasts its GDP will contract 23.5 percent this year against a 13 percent loss expected in January. (Reporting by Stella Dawson; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Ros Russell)