Vanguard (Lagos)

31 August 2014

Nigeria: Ebola Hits Economy

Photo: Boakai Fofana / AllAfrica
With the quarantine lifted in Monrovia's West Point neighborhood, trading slowly recommences in the sprawling business district nearby.

There is no doubt that the outbreak of the Ebola disease, which started in Guinea , as a major health hazard, now has serious economic implications in the entire West African sub-region. The sectors most affected include aviation, export sub-sector, industries dominated by large scale buying and selling of goods, open markets for second-hand clothes and other places within the affected countries.

Experts are of the opinion that the epidemic has already slashed economic growth in the sub-region by over 4 per cent and may result to increase in the prices of commodities and food shortages in some affected countries, if not quickly addressed.

Visit to open markets in Lagos:

When Sunday Vanguard visited Katangua, one of the largest markets for second-hand clothes business at Abule-Egba, area of Lagos, some dealers were seen in small groups lamenting about slow pace of business in the market due to the disease. Mrs. Hellen Idiong, fondly called Madam cash, a dealer who spoke with our correspondent said, "You can see that everywhere is scanty. Our customers are not coming out like before. Most people are still afraid of buying second-hand clothes because of this Ebola virus."

Another dealer, who gave his name as Mr. Samuel Junior, seen with hand-glove while arranging clothes in the market said, "This Ebola is a serious problem and the outbreak is very dangerous not only for people coming to buy but for some of us selling the clothes, because there is no way the materials will not touch our skin. That is why I am trying to protect myself with hand-glove. I will also advise people to wash these clothes with soup and disinfectants before wearing them.

Initially, I used to open a whole bale of clothes almost at every market day, but now I cannot even finish selling one bale in a week. Since I started business in Katangua in 2008, when a bale of second-hand clothes was sold for between N19,000 and N20,000, up till now that a bale goes for almost N40.000 and above depending on individual bargaining power, I have never experienced this kind of thing."

He went on, "To me, Katangua is the biggest market in Lagos. People from different parts of Lagos come here to shop for used clothes, shoes, bags and even curtains. This is because second-hand materials are durable. Some people even come here to buy in bulk and for retail in other smaller markets. I have customers who sell in their shops at Yaba, Oshodi and Orile. They usually come here to buy in large quantity to resell."

On the implication of doing business with second-hand clothes, which are categorised under contra-band items in government's import prohibition list, he said, well, you can call it contra-band or prohibited goods, but this is a big business here. If not for this Ebola virus that is scaring people, we would not even have time to talk because of human traffic in the market. Goods coming into Katangua are imported from China, Dubai, Europe as well as other Asian countries, and are brought in through Republic of Benin. We have over 10,000 dealers in this market and different unions regulating the activities of traders under Hausa, Igbo and other associations. You can see that everyone is affected by this epidemic. So, our appeal is for government to prevent the spread of this Ebola virus, because it is affecting our business negatively aside from the effect on health".

Aviation

During a visit to the local and international airports in Lagos, it was observed that screening and surveillance for comprehensive health checks were carried out by health experts for air travellers.

The aviation sector is experiencing revenue losses, Mohammed Tukur, Aviation expert in Nigeria.

He said, "Low turn out of passengers as well as flights cancellation is the major effect on the sector, which is why I believe that aviation is the worst hit since the outbreak of this disease. Apart from loss of revenue arising from slow pace of business activities by different airlines, passengers are also suffering. For instance, we are experiencing frequent cancellation of flights to different countries in the region. The situation is so frustrating because sometimes you see passengers who have made necessary arrangements to travel being turned back at the airport because of flights cancellation.

"The Ebola outbreak took everyone unaware that is why there is panic everywhere in the country. Since Ebola virus was discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River, which is where we know today as the Democratic Republic of Congo, this is the first time we are experiencing a major outbreak in the sub-region, but government is doing it best to tackle the epidemic."

Responding to question on recent complaints from local airline operators about loss of revenue to foreign airlines, He said, 'We are advising local operators to go into partnership with foreign airlines that have the financial capacity to operate within and outside Nigeria. For instance, currently only ARIK is flying to New York and other countries while other local airlines are operating only within Nigeria. So, we have to support ARIK."

Effect on aviation sector/food shortages:

Another aviation expert, who spoke with Sunday Vanguard, at the international airport under anonymity, said, "The situation is more worrisome in the Aviation sector and if not well addressed, may pave the way for food shortages in some affected countries within the region. At present, some airlines are still cancelling flights to countries within the sub-region for fear of Ebola, not withstanding the control measures put in place to prevent the spread.

For instance, about 216 out of 590 monthly flights scheduled for Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea had been cancelled. Look at what is happening in Kenya. Though Ebola virus has not even been detected in Kenya, Korean Airlines early August suspended flights to and from Kenya, saying the decision was to prevent the spread of the virus."

He went on, "The management of Air France has not out-rightly suspended flights to the sub-region, but they saying passengers from Guinea, Freetown in Sierra Leone and Nigeria must have their temperature taken before boarding the aircraft. This is not only limited to Air France, other airlines are also doing the same thing. For example, recently, the crew of Air France refused to board flights scheduled for some countries affected within the region. So, with the current trend, food shortages may occur due to low economic activities in such countries."

Banking industry/corporate organisations:

Also, during a visit to some commercial banks in Lagos, liquid hand sanitisers were seen positioned in the open, at the entrances for customers to sanitise their hands before carrying out transactions in the banks. Similar thing was observed in some corporate organisations in Lagos. While some companies positioned hand sanitisers by the security post for visitors to use before having access to their offices, others put their in the reception with a bold inscription by the bottle, 'sanitise your hands, Ebola is real'.

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