By Stella Dawson
WASHINGTON, April 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Ebola crisis and the collapse of Sierra Leone's mining industry are devastating the economies of West Africa, the World Bank said on Friday in announcing a major increase in aid.
Economic losses this year are looking far worse than expected. They rose to $2.2 billion for the region from $1.6 billion forecast three months ago with Sierra Leone's economy seen contracting 23.5 percent, it said.
The presidents of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are meeting with global development leaders at an Ebola summit here on Friday, where they will present a $5-6 billion regional recovery plan from the deadly virus that has claimed over 10,000 lives.
Already the international community has committed $5.6 billion. But they need twice that amount for a healthcare system in ruins and to build up social services and new infrastructure over the next two years, according to Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma.
The World Bank announced on Friday it will provide $650 million over the next 18 months, bringing its total assistance so far to $1.62 billion. More foreign aid donations are expected in the coming week.
"Even as we work relentlessly to get to zero new Ebola cases, the international community must help Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone jumpstart their recovery and build a safer, more prosperous and resilient future for their people," Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, said in a prepared statement.
The Ebola epidemic is retreating. The World Health Organisation announced 37 new cases in the week to April 12, down from 150 cases four weeks earlier, and the presidents expect to reach zero cases within the month.
But Sierra Leone has suffered a double blow. The collapse in global prices for iron ore, which accounts for half its exports and 25 percent of its GDP, led mines to close. In the updated economic outlook the World Bank forecasts its GDP will contract 23.5 percent this year against a 13 percent loss expected in January.
Guinea is seen contracting slightly by 0.2 percent this year, a little weaker than the previous forecast. Liberia however is gradually returning to normal, with GDP growth forecast at 3 percent this year against a 6.8 percent pace before Ebola, the World Bank said.
Oxfam International called on the World Bank and donors to step up their assistance and provide $1.7 billion to rebuild health systems in Ebola-affected countries.
"Solid commitments are desperately needed now to address public health failures that have contributed to more than 10,000 deaths and to prevent another deadly epidemic," said Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International's executive director. (Reporting by Stella Dawson; Editing by Andrea Ricci)
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