Liberia Gripped By Ebola’s Many Tentacles

Via USAID blog – by  on Wednesday, September 24th 2014

Morgana Wingard This is the second blog in our Daily Dispatches series in which we’ve teamed up with photojournalist Morgana Wingard, who is on the ground with USAID staff in Liberia documenting the fight on Ebola. Her photo series and blogs from the team will offer unique angles into the many facets of the Ebola story – from life inside a treatment center, to profiles of the health care workers battling Ebola from the front lines, to the many ways the epidemic is impacting the health, economy and future of the nation. 

“This deadly epidemic underscores the importance of USAID’s focus on ending extreme poverty and promoting resilient, democratic societies. As fragile states just emerging from decades of conflict and poverty, Sierra Leone and Liberia were particularly vulnerable as the disease jumped to urban environments. Even people who aren’t sick have not escaped Ebola’s reach. […] The United States is providing basic needs support and food aid to help counter these effects and boost access to food and water, especially for isolated communities.” – Nancy Lindborg, Testimony before Congress – September 17, 2014

MONROVIA, Liberia—While the Ebola virus is having devastating impacts on Liberia’s health system, beyond the spotlight it is having an equally damaging impact on the economy. We have yet to know the full extent of the impacts, but the warning signs are already showing.

Sales have plummeted in Waterside Market—an economic hub in downtown Monrovia where Liberians trek to buy commodities like fresh fish from the Atlantic Ocean, school shoes, or used household goods imported from America. And at this time of year, many parents should be back-to-school shopping. However, with all of Liberia’s schools closed and many parents now jobless, vendors wait for days sometimes before selling a single ware.

I stopped by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare one morning and met Emmanuel Patrick, 55. He was an instructor at the Salvation Army School until the government closed the schools due to the epidemic. Now, to support his six children, he travels to the Ministry every morning in the hopes of obtaining a day labor job working in the warehouse. But there is not enough work, and the income doesn’t cover the cost of increasing living expenses.

You can find stories like Emmanuel’s on every corner of the nation’s capital and throughout Liberia: Ordinary Liberians, who, while not infected with the virus, are suffering its impacts.

Ibrahim, 20, sells shoes in Waterside Market in downtown Monrovia on Sept. 18, 2014

Ibrahim, 20, sells shoes in Waterside Market in downtown Monrovia on Sept. 18, 2014. Normally at this time of year he sells shoes for students going back to school. On a typical day he would sell between two and five pairs. Since the Ebola virus epidemic, sales have plummeted. Schools are closed and Liberians are staying at home as much as possible. Many people have lost their jobs and are living on their savings to survive.


Hana, who sells donuts, lays across a counter once filled with meat products for sale in Monrovia, Liberia, on August 18, 2014.

Hana, who sells donuts, lays across a counter once filled with meat products for sale in Monrovia, Liberia, on August 18, 2014. Waterside Market is typically a bustling commerce center in downtown Monrovia. Now, with fears of Ebola, vendors are struggling to sell their goods. The Liberian Government is threatening to close down the market which sits next to the largest township, West Point, where members of the community broke into an Ebola isolation unit on August 16. Because of concern that Ebola is spread through contaminated bush meat, stalls that used to be filled with meat are now empty.


Anne Benson, 49, sells used clothes in Waterside Market to support her nine children and five grandchildren in Monrovia on September 18, 2014

Anne Benson, 49, sells used clothes in Waterside Market to support her nine children and five grandchildren in Monrovia on September 18, 2014. She lives with her husband and children in Sinkor. Since the Ebola outbreak her sales have plummeted. She used to sell the equivalent of $23 to $35 per day. Now she’s lucky if she sells $6 worth. She says only people in town are buying. People are not traveling to the market anymore because of the costs of transportation and the fear of taxis, which are often carrying Ebola patients to Ebola Treatment Units. When she travels to work in a taxi, she protects herself from the other passengers in the car with a long sweater. She makes seven of her nine children stay at home all day to protect them from the Ebola virus and regularly uses hand sanitizer and their bucket of chlorine water at home.


Oretha Sampon, 40, sells fish in Waterside Market next to West Point in Monrovia on September 18, 2014.

Oretha Sampon, 40, sells fish in Waterside Market next to West Point in Monrovia on September 18, 2014. Before the Ebola Outbreak she would sell 50 to 100 fish each day. Now she only sells about 25. She says no one is buying during the crisis because because of the precarious economy. Business owners are forced to live off their savings—if they have them—because they are not making enough to cover their expenses. Oretha used to come sell six times a week in the market, but now she only comes three times a week. With the cost of goods and transport going up and sales going down Oretha has lost her means to support her four children.


Vincent, 24 (center, in blue) and Junior, 20 (middle, in red), both residents of West Point

Vincent, 24 (center, in blue) and Junior, 20 (middle, in red), both residents of West Point, a  township that has been one of the hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic, used to drive motorcycles for a living — a form of local transport in Liberia used like taxis. After the government banned motorcycles in downtown Monrovia they had to stop. Now, because of Ebola, they can’t find any work and are feeling disgruntled. They want a job, but no one is hiring so they wait on the side of the street at the entrance of West Point.


Emmanuel Patrick, 55, was an instructor at the Salvation Army School in Monrovia, Liberia

Emmanuel Patrick, 55, was an instructor at the Salvation Army School in Monrovia, Liberia. He’s been teaching for 26 years—four of them at the Salvation Army School. Since the schools are closed due to the Ebola outbreak, he doesn’t have a job to support his wife and six children. He spends the equivalent of $1.75 a day to take a taxi to the Ministry of Health in hopes of being hired as a temporary day worker, but there are not enough jobs to fill the demand. If he gets hired for a day, he’ll make $5.90. It costs over $5 per day to feed his family, and the cost of living—including rice, a staple of the local diet—is going up.

According to USAID Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg, “Economic growth projections have been cut by more than half in all three of the most impacted countries [Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea], and the cost of living is rising—particularly in Liberia where inflation is expected to nearly double by the end of the year.”


To maintain economic and political stability, it is paramount that Liberians have the basics to survive.

To maintain economic and political stability, it is paramount that Liberians have the basics to survive. The United States is providing support for basic needs and food aid to boost access to food and water, especially for vulnerable communities like West Point. USAID has provided $6.6 million worth of American-grown food aid to support the U.N. World Food Program’s regional response. This photo shows USAID-donated rice being prepared for distribution on September 19, 2014, in West Point—a township of 20,000 to 80,000 that has been one of the hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic.


Monrovia, Liberia - September 18, 2014: West Point, a township of 20,000 to 80,000 people, is a hot zone for the Ebola virus.

Monrovia, Liberia – September 18, 2014: West Point, a township of 20,000 to 80,000 people, is a hot zone for the Ebola virus. Active case finding teams are discovering 20 to 30 cases a day in the community.


The U.N. World Food Program distributes USAID-donated rice in West Point

Monrovia, Liberia – September 19, 2014:  The U.N. World Food Program distributes USAID-donated rice in West Point—a township of 20,000 – 80,000 that has been one of the hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Morgana Wingard is a photojournalist documenting the many facets of the Ebola crisis in Liberia. All this week she will be guest posting from USAID’s instagram.

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