THE three West African countries hit hardest by the Ebola epidemic called for an $8 billion "Marshall Plan" to help rebuild their economies and boost prevention efforts
THE three West African countries hit hardest by the Ebola epidemic called for an $8 billion "Marshall Plan" on Friday to help rebuild their economies and boost prevention efforts.
With the number of new cases having dwindled after the disease took more than 10,000 lives over the past year, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone said they need much more financial aid to overcome the disaster and ensure it can't happen again.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told global financial and aid leaders in Washington that while sum was high, it was crucial to help seal recovery in the three countries.
"Is this asking too much? We say no, because a strong Mano River Union can be a formidable force for recovery and resilience in the subregion," Sirleaf told a meeting which included the heads of the United Nations, World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and representatives of leading countries and international development groups.
She said the sum would allow the three countries, who with Ivory Coast form the Mano River Union development region, to reach a more sustainable growth level and build health systems that would prevent another such outbreak.
"Our health systems collapsed, investors left our countries, revenues declined and spending increased."
The "Marshall Plan" reference was to the massive US-driven plan to rebuild Europe after World War II.
"The Marshall Plan was the consequence of a war. Ebola was like a war for our countries," said Guinea President Alpha Conde.
Donors have already pledged a large part of the $8 billion, leaving the three countries likely around $1 billion short of their goal.
On Friday World Bank President Jim Yong Kim announced a new $650 million package for the three countries over the next 18 months, on top of nearly $1 billion pledged last year.
Officials said that while they still have to be sure Ebola is completely eradicated, they have to start work on rebuilding health systems that completely broke down, allowing the rapid spread.
By comparison, the health care systems in neighboring countries like Nigeria and Ivory Coast were better able to monitor and control infections, minimalizing Ebola infections and deaths.
"The full recovery of Ebola-affected countries is only possible when the outbreak has ended and safeguards have been put in place to prevent re-introduction of the disease," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Not out of the woods
The aid is also to restart economies that were stopped in their tracks by the disease, restoring trade and investment that was shut down in the face of the epidemic.
Liberia has resumed economic growth, but Guinea will continue to contract slightly this year while Sierra Leone's economy, hit hard by the shutdown of iron ore mines, could shrink by 23.5 percent this year, according to the World Bank.
The United Nations has scheduled a donors meeting in July to bring together support for rebuilding, but the leaders of the three West African countries stressed at the meeting that they need to move faster.
"We need these funds immediately, we don't want to wait until July," said Conde.
The World bank's Kim though stressed that the disease itself has still not been defeated, even if new infections and deaths have declined dramatically.
"The epidemic is not over. The world must not let up... We're not yet out of the woods," he said.
Ebola-hit countries call for $8 bn aid plan