An alternative response to Ebola for Liberia

slide_359890_4018997_freeThe Ebola virus epidemic will continue to cripple the economies of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone—the three worst hit countries— even as transmission rates in the three countries show significant signs of slowing.[1]. A World Bank report estimates that these three countries will have lost at least US1.6 billion, cumulatively, in foregone economic growth in 2015 as a result of the epidemic—Guinea US$ 540 million, Liberia US$ 180 million, and Sierra Leone US$ 920 million. However, because of intensive global and national responses to the epidemic, a second report, released on the eve of the 2015 World Economic Forum in Davos contains more positive news; the probability of spread and the associated economic costs beyond the three most-affected countries are now much lower than previously feared.

National and international responses resulted in a number of public health improvements within the three West African nations: safer burial practices, earlier case detections, more health workers and treatment facilities, public awareness campaigns and enhanced contact tracking. Neighbouring countries—Mali, Nigeria and Senegal have now all been declared Ebola-free.

Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group said of the Davos report:

“This report demonstrates why all countries should make investing in pandemic preparedness a top priority for 2015. It points to the need for a global pandemic emerging financing facility that will enable the world to respond much more quickly and effectively to any future deadly outbreaks, and avoid the tragic and unnecessary human and economic costs that have resulted from the Ebola epidemic.”

The World Bank has mobilised nearly US$ 1 billion in financing for the countries hardest hit by the Ebola crisis. This includes US$ 18 million from the International Development Association (IDA) for the epidemic response and at least US$450 million from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank, to enable trade, investment and employment in Guinea Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Innovative Financing for Development[2] (IFD) could provide the global pandemic emerging financing facility mechanism suggested by Jim Yong Kim—it is another and potentially more permanent way of solving the problems. If a micro-contribution of US$ 0.01 were placed on each telecommunication transaction in Liberia to help fight Ebola, this could raise significant revenues for the government. This small contribution is affordable, would not have a detrimental effect on anyone, and could be used to finance a fund to combat/prevent the devastating effect of another Ebola epidemic of major proportions from which the Liberian economy may not recover.

With the assistance of Global Voice Group (GVG) the Liberia Telecoms Authority (LTA) has already implemented the International Gateway Monitoring System (IGMS) based on ICT tools and real-time data collection. This is expected to generate additional revenue for the State and local operators, and has empowered the LTA to intervene effectively in the elimination of fraudulent grey traffic and the overall improvement of the quality of service. The IGMS will also create employment opportunities for Liberians—the LTA alone has hired 23 new staff members.

Liberia could certainly benefit from additional technology to level the playing fields.The decision of President Sirleaf Johnson to raise additional revenue by adding a micro-contribution on international inbound telephone calls has had a positive impact on the Liberian economy and points the way towards an Ebola financing mechanism. The country can do much more than this initial revenue-raising initiative and should look into further Innovative Financing for Development mechanisms.

Besides telecommunications, there are many other untapped revenue-raising possibilities available to the Liberian government. Some of these are: financial services, travel and tourism, mining and minerals, energy and other economic activities. These are not dependant on outside resources and could empower the Liberian government without increasing debt. Liberia is richly endowed with water, forests and has a climate favourable to agriculture. In addition, it is rich in mineral deposits: bauxite, cobalt, lead, diamonds, gold and iron ore.

Liberia could harness additional revenue from these untapped resources to reduce its dependence on development aid and better equip itself to face any future exogenous shocks.

[1] World Bank Group analysis on the economic impact of Ebola in Africa (2015)

[2] Any financing mechanism that does not include Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Written By: Katie Fieldman – independent corporate writer and an expert in innovative financing.
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About Cholo Brooks 17126 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.