Ebola-hit Liberia secures food staples; growth outlook gloomy: Minister

Ebola-hit Liberia secures food staples; growth outlook gloomy: Minister
A resident sick from the ebola virus waits on September 23, 2014 outside "Island Clinic", a new Ebola treatment centre that opened in Monrovia

LONDON - Liberia, the West African state hardest-hit by the worst Ebola outbreak in history, has secured imports of basic food staples until December, but the blow to its mining sector may trigger a recession next year, a minister said on Thursday.

Commerce and Industry Minister Axel Addy urged foreign donors to do more - and more rapidly - to help tackle the epidemic, which has killed almost 3,000 people since March in five countries, including more than 1,670 in Liberia.

The deadly virus has badly hurt Liberia's economy, disrupting mining and trade, and prompting airline operators to suspend flights while expatriate workers have fled.

The agricultural sector has also been hard hit, although the Liberian government has managed to secure enough rice shipments to adequately supply the population until December, Addy said in an interview in London. "For staples, we are getting commodities, we are getting rice into the country, but it is a little more expensive," Addy told Reuters.

"On the local production side is where the challenge lies ... We have to work with the farmers to see how we can mitigate the effects." The government also cut its growth estimate for the mining sector, the engine of Liberia's economy, from four per cent this year to 2.5 per cent, said Addy.

Expatriates, many of whom work in the commodities industry, have left the country in droves and hotel occupancy rates in the capital Monrovia has nosedived to 5 per cent.

The impact on the mining sector will weigh on overall economic growth which Addy forecast would come in at 2.5 per cent this year - well below a previous estimate of just under six per cent. The data could deteriorate further, he warned.

"Next year, if this lingers on, (GDP growth) is likely to go into negative, because speaking of the mining sector, a lot of our major operators in that sector have had to slow down operations, many of the technical staff have left the country, and that directly has an impact," he told a news conference.

Addy welcomed international efforts to combat the Ebola outbreak, but said more needed to be done, as the country faced a desperate shortage of health workers and medical supplies. "We are working against time," he said. "A lot of our partners have stepped in to help us. However, this is something we have never experienced. . It requires the full commitment of the international community, and it needs to move very fast." So far, half of the US$1 billion (S$1.27 billion) the United Nations said were needed to fight Ebola effectively had been raised.

The head of the African Development Bank earlier this week urged mining companies and businesses active in Africa to get involved with the aid efforts.

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