The economic costs of the Ebola crisis are falling most heavily on the informal sector in Sierra Leone

Two new reports from the World Bank Group and the IGC reveal that informal economic activity in Sierra Leone has been depressed by the Ebola outbreak. Late rains delayed the harvest but food prices are following normal seasonal trends.

The World Bank report, produced in collaboration with Statistics Sierra Leone, Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and the IGC, shows a decline in household heads working in urban areas from 75% in August to 67% in November. Most of this decline is among those working in nonfarm household enterprises. Employment in rural areas is unchanged.

A complementary IGC report, based on research by the IGC and IPA, shows that Ebola hasn’t impacted nationwide food prices. Across the country prices for basic foods remain at or below prices in previous years. The number of traders in markets for some goods has been sharply below previous years.

There are a few markets where prices are substantially higher than average, and there are more of these in 2014 than in previous years. The challenge for the Ebola response remains to effectively target aid to areas that have been impacted by transport restrictions without flooding the market.

Key facts:

  • Average prices for domestic and imported rice, cassava, and palm oil in markets in Sierra Leone continue to be reasonably stable. Over 90% of markets reported the beginning of the rice harvest by late November, compared to approximately 60% in October.
  • For palm oil and gari (processed cassava) the number of traders in 2014 is sharply below previous years although this gap does appear to be closing.
  • While considerable attention has been paid to the decline in flights to and from Ebola affected countries, most international trade takes place over land or boat. International shipping to West Africa fell in September 2014, but returned to 2013 levels in November and December 2014.
The IGC bulletin on the economic impact of Ebola is available here: https://www.theigc.org/project/the-economic-implications-of-ebola/
The World Bank report on the economic impact of Ebola is available here: http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/publication/socio-economic-impacts-ebola-sierra-leone
The accompanying World Bank press release is available here: http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2015/01/12/ebola-hampering-household-economies-liberia-sierra-leone