Just two weeks ago, the citizens of Sierra Leone celebrated the end of Ebola transmission in their country with cheering and dancing in the streets of Freetown. It’s a milestone worth celebrating in a country that has suffered nearly 4,000 deaths from the deadly virus.
News like this from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone is a reminder of how critical it is to remain vigilant against future outbreaks and continue supporting the countries as their economies recover. Take the case of Bindeh Kamara, a 22-year-old mother of four in Sierra Leone who lost her husband to Ebola. Without his income, Bindeh struggled to pay for food, clothing, and her children’s school fees.
Bindeh’s story is not unique. The primary cost of the outbreak has been the many lives lost. But the socioeconomic effects of the crisis have also wiped out hard-earned development gains in the affected countries. A recent report estimates that the loss of health workers to Ebola could increase maternal deaths in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone to rates last seen 15 to 20 years ago. Ebola also took a heavy toll on agriculture as farmers abandoned their fields, leading FAO and the World Food Programme to estimate that nearly 1 million people could go hungry.
Over the past year, the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the poorest, mobilized $1.17 billion for the three countries most affected by Ebola. More than a third of this financing came from the IDA Crisis Response Window (CRW), which helps countries respond to exceptionally severe crises.
The funding helped Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone contain the spread of infections by securing additional health workers, medical supplies and drugs, expedited lab testing, Ebola education campaigns, surveillance, and safe burials. It has also helped communities affected by Ebola cope with the humanitarian and economic impact, providing food and basic supplies to more than 700,000 people in quarantined areas and 10,500 tons of maize and rice seed to more than 200,000 farmers in all three countries.
The World Bank’s ability to respond rapidly to the Ebola crisis was strengthened by our shareholders’ commitment to setting aside funding to respond to severe crises in the poorest countries, which tend to be more vulnerable to the impact of natural disasters and economic crises. The CRW was an important innovation that created a predictable and fast-deploying funding stream. Within one year of IDA’s current funding cycle, all CRW funds had been allocated to help countries respond to not only to the Ebola crisis, but also to cyclones in Vanuatu and Tuvalu, floods in Malawi and the Solomon Islands, and the earthquake in Nepal.
Once the immediate crisis is over, work continues to rebuild more resilient communities and economies. In the countries affected by Ebola, IDA support is helping build resilience to future crises through stronger health systems, access to clean water and sanitation facilities, better education systems, and more reliable sources of electricity. It is also helping people like Bindeh get back on their feet. A cash transfer program is helping her start a small business, providing a sustainable source of income to take care of her family and continue her education.
The Ebola crisis taught us that a rapid response is critical to saving lives. But it also reinforced a fundamental lesson: To prevent future crises, we must continue to support countries for the long term and help them build a more resilient future.