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On Ebola, IMF Tells ICP Epidemic into 2d Half of 2015, More Funds Needed

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 13, updated with transcript -- When the International Monetary Fund held its biweekly embargoed media briefing on November 13, Inner City Press again asked about Ebola, including new World Bank estimates of budget shortfalls in Liberia.

 Inner City Press on November 13 asked, "On Ebola, what is the IMF's response to the US call for debt forgiveness for three countries? The World Bank has indicated that Liberia's revised 2014-15 budget has an unmet financing gap of more than half of the budget deficit projected at over $300 million. What can or will the IMF do about this?"

  IMF Deputy Spokesperson William Murray replied that given the flare up of Ebola cases in unexpected areas, "the IMF staff's previously projections were assuming the epidemic would be brought under control in the first quarter of 2015. However it now appears that it could be well into the second half of 2015 before the Ebola epidemic is brought under control in these three countries." Full transcript below.

 Murray said, "further support, preferably in grants form, will be needed." He replied similarly on debt relief, that the IMF would reach out to donors; he said that Executive Board involvement will be needed.

  From the IMF's subsequently released transcript:

IMF's William Murray: This is from Matthew Lee, Inner City Press. On Ebola, if not answered, what is the IMF's response to the U.S. call for debt forgiveness for three countries, and given the World Bank's estimate of budget shortfalls in Liberia, what is the IMF going -- IMF doing, or will it do? Well Matthew I think I answered that question earlier. I mean, we have -- we've been closely and carefully following developments in West Africa and working actively with the authorities there. One thing I wanted to underline, is that you know, the situation in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone remains precarious. The international effort underway, together with behavioral changes on the part of populations, is making progress in controlling the disease. However, although the incidents in new cases has declined in parts of Liberia, there have been recent flare-ups in previously little affected towns. The IMF staffs' previous projections -- we're assuming that the epidemic would be brought under control by the first quarter of 2015. However it now appears that it could be well into the second half of 2015 before the Ebola outbreak is brought under control in the three affected countries. As a result, the economic outlook for these countries is now worse than it is at the time of the recent additional IMF support, and significant financing gaps are emerging for 2015. Further budget supports through bilateral and multilateral donors, preferably in grant form will be needed. And just to underscore, should the current outbreak be more protracted or spread to more countries within Sub-Saharan Africa, it would have larger spillovers, undermining confidence, investment decisions and trade activities. So the bottom line is we're closely monitoring the situation in the neighboring countries as they step up Ebola preparedness measures and address other fallouts of the epidemic.

  At the UN on November 12 when the UN Security Council met, Liberia's Ambassador Marjon Kamara spoke not of the IMF but of the World Bank, saying "the World Bank recently gave a gloomy depiction of the economic effects of the disease on the three most affected countries - Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone."

     Per Thoresson, Deputy Ambassador of Sweden which chairs the UN Peacebuilding configuration on Liberia, specified that “according to the World Bank, the two-year regional financial impact could reach $32.6 billion by the end of 2015. The World Bank also indicated that Liberia's revised 2014-15 budget has an unmet financing gap of more than half of the budget deficit projected at over $300 million.”

  So where's the money going to come from? Back on October 30, Inner City Press asked the International Monetary Fund about its stated $130 million commitment to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

   Inner City Press asked IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice for an update at the IMF's embargoed briefing on October 30.

  Rice said the outlook has worsened, with region-wide fall offs in travel and tourism. As to the three countries most impacted, there are "large financing needs likely for 2015."

  At the Annual Meetings earlier this month, the IMF met with the three countries' authorities, Rice said. "2015 is going to be a challenging year." If the outbreak spreads, it would have larger spillovers. The IMF, Rice said, is ready. We'll see.

  In the UN Security Council on November 12, the head of UN Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous recited that Justice Minister Christiana Tah resigned and five soldiers have been demoted for disciplinary offenses while enforcing a quarantine of an Ebola-affected community in Monrovia.

  Under Ladsous, it must be noted, UN Peackeeping has covered up attacks on civilians in Darfur and the Central African Republic. Ladsous himself refused repeatedly to answer Press questions about rapes by his partners in the DR Congo Army. Video compilation here. Most recently, Ladsous tried to block the Press' camera, Vine here. Thus is the UN UNdercut.

  Also during the October 30 embargoed IMF briefing, Inner City Press submitted this question: "On Ghana, does the IMF have any comment on the October 28 launch of the “Civil Society Organization Platform on the IMF Bailout to Ghana”? Will the IMF meet with the group?")

 On Ebola back on August 28 Rice told Inner City Press that the IMF was working on the ebola crisis with the government of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.  Later came the $130 million commitment.

  While most questions on August 28 concerned IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde being under investigation -- she will brief the IMF Board “very soon,” Rice said, calling it “highly unlikely” it would be on August 29 along with the Board's meeting on Ukraine -- Inner City Press also asked about Yemen, Ghana, Pakistan -- and ebola, IMF transcript here:

Has the IMF produced any estimates of the impact of the ebola crisis? Any IMF responses to it?”

  Rice read out the question, then said that ebola's "acute impacts" are “macro-economic” and social, hitting three “already fragile” countries (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone). He said "growth is likely to slow sharply in all three cases" and significant financial needs will rise: "increased poverty and food insecurity" and impacts on employment in the key agricultural sector.

  Rice concluded, "We are actively working with all three countries to prepare... additional financing that may be required."

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