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Ebola causing huge damage to West Africa economies: development bank

FREETOWN: Ebola is causing enormous damage to West African economies, draining budgetary resources and slashing economic growth by up to 4 percent as foreign businessmen leave and projects are cancelled, the African Development Bank president said.

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As transport companies suspend services, cutting off the region, governments and economists have warned that the worst outbreak of the hemorrhagic Ebola fever on record could crush the fragile economic gains made in Sierra Leone and Liberia following a decade of civil war in the 1990s.

Air France, the French network of Air France-KLM said on Wednesday it has suspended its flights to Sierra Leone following advice from the French government. France did not recommend suspending flights to Nigeria and Guinea.

“Revenues are down, foreign exchange levels are down, markets are not functioning, airlines are not coming in, projects are being cancelled, business people have left – that is very, very damaging,” African Development Bank (AfDB) chief Donald Kaberuka said in an interview late on Tuesday.

“The numbers I have had vary from one percent to four percent of GDP. That is a lot in a country with a GDP of US$6 billion,” Kaberuka said, when asked to quantify the impact.

Liberia has already said that it would have to lower its 2014 growth forecast, without giving a new one.

Sierra Leone Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources Abdul Ignosis Koroma also told Reuters that the government would miss its target of exporting $200 million in diamonds this year because of the Ebola outbreak, versus $186 million last year.

“There is no way the government can reach this amount since the districts where diamonds are mined are not Ebola-free, especially the main diamondiferous region Kono,” Koroma said. Miners, he added, are too afraid to go to alluvial diamonds pits in the country’s Ebola-striken east.

Diamond trade had also been stopped by tough border controls to curb the spread of the virus, he said.

The AfDB this week donated $60 million towards essential supplies to help train medical workers and purchase supplies to fight the outbreak, which has already killed more than 1,400 people, mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The disease also has a toehold in Africa’s most populous country Nigeria, where it has killed five people, but authorities there say the outbreak has been contained. Only one out of 13 confirmed cases is still being treated in isolation in the commercial capital Lagos-Reuters

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