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11 Dec 2014
Photo: Morgana Wingard/UNDP
Women, who drive many economic sectors, are particularly at risk of being infected.
New York — The Ebola outbreak is threatening the livelihoods of millions of women and men, according to a just released United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) study on the socio-economic impact of the disease in West Africa.
“The disease is killing people who are economically active, slashing incomes and eliminating jobs all around,” said Ayodele Odusola, the Chief Economist at UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa.
According to the study, disproportionate numbers of economically active women and men are being infected. In Sierra Leone, for instance, 65 percent of the sick were in the 15-49 age group.
In addition, women are at higher risk of infection because they work as caregivers in their families and communities. For instance, they represent 62 percent of the sick in Guéckédou, Guinea where the epidemic first appeared, and up to 74 percent in Télémilé, north of the capital Conakry.
This is impacting the economy, and the agricultural sector within it, particularly hard. Women represent 70 percent of those involved in growing, processing and selling potatoes in Guinea, while in Liberia, they comprise over half of the agriculture labor force and about two thirds of the people who trade in agricultural produce.
Closure of borders and markets, and the introduction of checkpoints and quarantines are also reducing people’s ability to make a living. For example, many farmers cannot access their farms, and when they can, often lack seeds or manual labor for planting and harvesting.
In Sierra Leone, per capita income fell by USD 71 between January and October, while 97 percent of respondents in a recent survey reported reduced incomes from farming, petty trading and service delivery. In Liberia’s Lofa County, most women have not been able to repay their debts since July. Microfinance, which is the main source of funding for many micro and small businesses, is being wiped out due to non-payment of loans and the death of many participants.
In addition, the crisis is destroying jobs. In Guinea, around 1,500 jobs were lost in the transport sector and 42,000 in the potato business. Suspension of classes has also made redundant 27,000 private teachers and administrative staff in Guinea and 40,000 teachers and administrative staff in Liberia. People in vulnerable employment were said to be particularly affected.
In Sierra Leone, all sectors have experienced a decline in employment as a result of the outbreak. For example, the country’s largest brewery has scaled down operations, culminating in a loss of 24,000 jobs within the supply chain. This number is only a small portion of the ballooning job losses expected during this crisis.
The report calls for boosting informal and formal loan schemes and microfinance to support cooperatives and small-scale businesses. Because agriculture employs more than 70 percent of the labor force in those countries and feeds millions of people, the report also urges the international community to step up its support for the production of food, through cash transfers, equipment and seeds.
In parallel, promoting exports of food and other commodities are key to conserving jobs and livelihoods for those who trade in these goods, while continuing to build skills among the labor force is key to ensuring businesses can survive and improve themselves after the crisis has ended.
Media Contact: Nicolas Douillet, Communications Specialist, UNDP Africa. Tel: +1.212.906.5937. Nicolas.firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @UNDP #EbolaResponse