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During 2014, the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) was reported in six countries across West Africa including: Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Mali. The caseloads in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia were the greatest, with over 11,000 confirmed deaths and nearly 29,000 suspected, probable, and confirmed cases. Governments in these three countries imposed intra- and international restrictions to human movement to curtail the spread of EVD within their borders. Though relatively effective, the results of the restrictions had indirect consequences on the economic sector in the region and at the household level.
To understand the impact of EVD on household livelihoods and food security, FEWS NET carried out an Ebola and Livelihoods study in all three countries. In Guinea and Liberia, FEWS NET facilitated a two-day workshop with key informants from the government and non-governmental organizations. The study in Sierra Leone was more extensive, consisting of key informant interviews at the community level, across nine of the ten livelihood zones. The studies focused on household livelihood strategies (i.e., access to food, income activities, and expenditure patterns) in three points of time: before, during, and after the EVD epidemic. The results of the studies are highlighted in this report and include the following:
- There are two channels of impact of the EVD crisis: 1) loss of life as a direct result of EVD infection, and 2) behavioral effects, which led to a fear of association with others and a reduction in labor force participation, closures of places of employment, transport disruptions, border and market closures, etc. Overall, the largest economic impact of the crisis were not direct costs related to mortality, morbidity, caregiving, and the associated losses in working days, but those resulting from changes in behavior, either as part of government-imposed aversion measures or driven by fear of household impact.
- Government-imposed control measures which directly affected households living in the three countries, independently of infection by EVD or loss of family members, included: travel and transport restrictions, restrictions on the movement of individuals, restriction to the right of assembly, and establishment of community bylaws.
- The impact of the EVD outbreak on food security was not predominantly driven by limited food availability but rather by reduced food access. The food access problem was mostly the result of the reduction in economic activity both at the regional/national level and at the household level, which had an effect on households’ purchasing power. The ban and closure of markets and the restrictions to movement added further to the food access problem.
- The impact of EVD on the household economy must consider the weakness of the local economies, especially in rural areas, before the crisis as well as the impact of EVD itself. All three countries have low per-capital income levels and a large proportion of the population live below the national poverty lines, with little economic buffer from one season to the next.
- Changes in household expenditure patterns related to the restrictions on movements and market closures led to temporary price spikes and slumps as goods became unavailable or unsellable. The cost of transporting goods in some cases has increased by 50 percent (UNDP et al 2015, SC et al. 2015), partly due to the reduction in the availability of transport services and the disruptions arising from having to negotiate quarantines and checkpoints imposed along many routes. The increase of transport prices will have been passed on to the consumer.
- During the Ebola epidemic, households living in affected areas engaged in various strategies to cope with the loss of income and key food sources as a result of losing household members and the overall negative effects of the crisis. Most of the strategies are typically used in times of stress, such as switching expenditure patterns from non- essentials to essentials or increasing livestock sales. Other coping strategies not typically used were also adopted, including: selling and trading of goods door-to-door and engaging in non-professional health work as a contractor (e.g., social mobilizer, burial team member, ambulance driver, etc.).
- Overall, no sources of household food or income appear to have been lost permanently. As such, there is no apparent change in the fundamental pattern of rural livelihoods. However, livelihood patterns and income levels have changed for households that lost working members.