Ebola threatens West African economies

MONROVIA - In the deserted shops and marketplaces of West Africa's towns and cities, traders worry about a secondary, insidious effect of the world's most deadly Ebola outbreak: the prospect of financial ruin.

The tropical virus has claimed almost 900 lives since it emerged in the forests of southern Guinea at the start of the year, but it is also killing off business and threatening manufacturing.

In perhaps the most worrying indication of the epidemic's damage to the wider economy, the World Bank has warned of a possible decline in the key mining sector as expatriate workers abandon the region.

"This Ebola sickness is affecting us... because first, people used to buy from us. But now the money we used to make, we are not making it," says Yukon Morris, a stallholder in the eerily quiet Jorkpeh market, in the Liberian capital Monrovia.

Morris sells ground leaves from cassava, a woody shrub used extensively in West African cuisine and one of the most important food crops in Liberia. Ebola, which has killed more than half the people it has infected in the current outbreak, spreads through contact with bodily fluids such as blood, saliva and sweat.

Morris says his customers, fearful of coming into contact with their fellow Liberians, are staying away from Monrovia's once-crowded marketplaces. "If you grind this particular (produce), you sweat. And the people say 'no sweating, no touching', and in this business we cannot put gloves on our hands to do this work."

Fellow trader Kimeh Johnson is also feeling the pinch. "What I want to tell the government of Liberia and the international community, they should please find a means for (controlling) this Ebola virus," she tells AFP from her vegetable stall.

"So it can stop and our children can go to school freely in a way that our business and everything will be fine. Customers will flow like before. But right now, nothing [is] going on for we, the business people."

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