Session 3: Building resilient economies – Lessons from Ebola

Post Ebola: Humanitarian resilience and recovery

Rachael Glennerster (IGC Sierra Leone) highlighted the role of researchers and good data in a crisis, to ensure assistance goes to the right places and policymakers focus in the right directions. Fast turnaround is essential for which there needs to be work on the ground already. While it is hard to do high-quality work in crisis situations, even good descriptive data can be very useful.

For instance, there was widespread reporting of skyrocketing food prices due to Ebola. Glennerster and Suri find this was only true in certain communities and in general, prices followed patterns similar to previous years. Hence, it was important to point this out and target aid to the right areas. Similarly, contrary to the belief that agriculture in rural areas was the worst hit, it was the informal urban sector where the impact was felt the most.

It is also important to take into account the psychology of crisis. Policymakers need to yell fire to capture the attention of the international community. However, this leads to panic in-country and has negative domestic economic consequences.

Abou Bakarr Kamara (Country Economist, IGC Sierra Leone) presented the remarks of Sheka Bangura (Director of Planning, Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, Sierra Leone). He emphasised the need for a careful review of existing policies and programmes and building more resilient national systems. The Ebola recovery strategy broadly comprises: (i) Getting to/ maintaining zero infections, and (ii) Mitigating and managing socioeconomic and governance effects of the epidemic. He also said that the crisis serves as a reminder of the need to strengthen sub-regional socioeconomic integration.

Herbert Mcleod (Country Director, IGC Sierra Leone) discussed feasible economic options and strategic planning for recovery and reconstruction post-Ebola. The crisis has revealed weaknesses in health systems, public administration and service delivery, and opportunities for regional collaboration, public-private partnerships, and policy reforms, particularly, decentralisation. He highlighted the mitigating effects of ‘Ebola dividend’ in the form of employment on hazard pay, enhanced civic responsibility and work ethics, international support, boost to tourism etc.

The simultaneous fall in prices of major exports accentuated policy challenges and exposed the fragility of the sub-region. Policymakers need to focus on dealing with vulnerabilities revealed during the epidemic, and building back a system better than the current one. Some of the areas for research are building appropriate low-cost health systems, enhancing public service delivery, political economy of decentralisation, options for diversification, and regional collaboration.

Summary written by Nalini Gulati, Country Economist, IGC – India Central