The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is undoing decade-long efforts to help Sierra Leone and Liberia recover from civil wars, forcing many aid organizations to suspend their operations in the two countries or redirect their efforts to containing the outbreak, Reuters reports.
After the return of stability and economic growth in the two West African nations had raised hopes that they could reduce their longstanding dependence on foreign aid, the Ebola crisis has shattered those hopes, bringing post-conflict reconstruction projects to a halt and undermining the recent but tenuous social and economic gains, aid workers and government officials told Reuters. The foreign aid component of Sierra Leone's economy, for example — some 20 percent in 2010 — had been shrinking in recent years, thanks to a boom in commodities exports. But Ebola has brought normal economic activity in the country to a halt and forced many development organizations to suspend operations. One of them, Planting Promise, an education charity that had spent six years developing farms in Sierra Leone and using the profits to fund local schools, was forced to withdraw its expatriate staff and close down much of its self-financed project. "The impact of Ebola will take us completely back to [Sierra Leone] being a basket case," said Planting Promise CEO Rocco Falconer. "The impact on some activities has been simply catastrophic."
In Liberia, Ebola has dashed President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's plans to replace development assistance with foreign investment. While the World Bank and other donors have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, Jennah Scott, director of the Liberia Philanthropy Secretariat, a government agency, is concerned that the funds will go primarily to UN agencies and large NGOs rather than local organizations. "We need to get more support to local NGOs because they are the ones who stay in Liberia," said Scott.
In both countries, moreover, Ebola has exacerbated existing problems, including inadequate and underfunded public health systems, widespread food insecurity, and a lack of clean water and modern sanitation. WaterAid, an international NGO with water, sanitation, and hygiene programs in twenty-six countries, had to suspend its plans to drill a hundred boreholes in Sierra Leone and provide services to four villages in Liberia. "Ebola has become a hydra-headed crisis," said Apollos Nwafor, the group's West Africa advocacy manager.
Other NGOs have shifted the focus of their efforts to the virus itself. OneVillage Partners, a rural development agency that started with post-war reconstruction efforts in villages in eastern Sierra Leone and has since expanded into microloans for small business, suspended all its programs in July and is using its local expertise and relationships to contain the outbreak, delivering soap and educating villagers about Ebola. But while Ebola has set the clock back years on the organization's efforts, the immediate work of showing local people how to avoid the virus was critical. "Everywhere we looked," said Chad McCordic, the organization's community project manager, "there was just wholesale denial and a lot of misinformation going around about Ebola."