Ebola: A threat to sustainable development

The current Ebola outbreak is considered the largest one ever recorded with a total of more than 17,000 cases reported as of 2 December 2014. During the 69th Session of the General Assembly, many heads of States have called for a global response to tackle the outbreak. As part of these efforts, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) will hold a special meeting on “Ebola: A threat to Sustainable Development” on 5 December.

6,070 people have died and cases of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) have been reported in Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Spain, the US and in the previously affected countries Nigeria and Senegal. The most affected countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – are also among the poorest in the world, with healthcare systems that are not equipped to handle a health crisis of this magnitude.

These countries with fragile economies are now faced with increasing fiscal deficits as a result of increased expenditure on health, security and social protection coupled with revenue reduction due to decreased economic activities.  According to IMF and World Bank estimates, the short-term fiscal impact of the Ebola outbreak is US$ 113 million (5.1 per cent of GDP) for Liberia, US$95 million (2.1 per cent of GDP) in Sierra Leone and US$120 million (1.8 per cent) in Guinea. These countries may also face borrowing constraints depending on the duration and spread of the epidemic.

Responding to a complex emergency

“Ebola is not just an urgent public health crisis, it is a complex emergency. Ebola and the fear and stigma it creates has affected health provision, education, food security, trade and economic well-being”

Dr. David Nabarro
Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Ebola

During the 69th Session of the General Assembly, many heads of States have called for a global response to tackle the crisis. In a historic resolution, the Security Council also emphasized the role of relevant United Nations System entities, in particular the United Nations General Assembly, ECOSOC, and the Peacebuilding Commission, in supporting the national, regional and international efforts to respond to the Ebola outbreak. In September, the Secretary-General also established the first-ever UN emergency health mission, the Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) to respond to the emergency.

“As [the Security] Council has emphasized, Ebola is not just an urgent public health crisis. It is a complex emergency. Ebola and the fear and stigma it creates has affected health provision, education, food security, trade and economic well-being,” said the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, as he briefed the Security Council on 21 November, urging the international community to maintain its critical response.

Like the case with the economic impact of Ebola, it is equally, if not more difficult to quantify and make projections on its immense social impacts. In Sierra Leone, schools have been closed since June jeopardizing the gains made in children’s education. The closure of schools is expected to impact malnutrition in the country since school feeding programmes have been effective in providing nourishment to children. In addition, people’s livelihoods and food production are disrupted, and businesses are closing in the most affected countries.

Examining consequences for sustainable development

As the international community continues to elaborate on a post-2015 development agenda, the Ebola outbreak is a stark reminder that our policy choices and actions at all levels have economic, social and environmental implications. The chronology of the Ebola outbreaks also raises questions about the environmental dimensions in the emergence of infectious diseases that are transmitted from wild animals to humans, as deforestation and land use continue to bring people closer to wildlife. National policies and resource allocations that do not prioritize the health sector can furthermore make countries vulnerable to such outbreaks.

“Even as we focus on the immediate threats, it is not too soon to start working on recovery”

Ban Ki-moon
UN Secretary-General

As the United Nations, affected countries’ governments, Pan-African institutions and the international community increase their efforts to respond to the Ebola outbreak, ECOSOC will now further examine the economic, social and environmental dimensions of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) and identify solutions for a multi-sectoral response.

Taking place on 5 December, ECOSOC’s special meeting will be an opportunity to elaborate on the economic and social impact of Ebola in affected countries, their neighboring countries and the rest of the world. The event aims to explore policies and mechanisms needed to address the multidimensional nature of the Ebola outbreak and propose appropriate short, medium and long-term solutions to prevent future outbreaks.

“Even as we focus on the immediate threats, it is not too soon to start working on recovery,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his remarks to media following the meeting of the Chief Executives of the United Nations system on Ebola on 21 November.  He warned that “the consequences of Ebola will long outlast the outbreak” and appealed to the international community to stay engaged.

Photo courtesy of UNICEF

For more information:

ECOSOC Special Meeting on Ebola

UN system’s Global Ebola Response