LONDON – A group of prominent foreign investors in West Africa have called for greater international support to combat Ebola in the region, in the strongest co-ordinated business response to the crisis caused by the deadly virus.
The statement signed by 11 chief executives came as the US and UK announced military contributions to combat the outbreak, which has killed nearly 2 100 people since February, and Sierra Leone announced a national lockdown in an effort to halt its spread.
Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the three worst-hit countries, needed the “immediate opening of humanitarian and economic corridors”, according to the business leaders, who included Lakshmi Mittal, chairman of steelmaker ArcelorMittal, and Mark Bristow, chief executive of the mining group Randgold Resources. Other signatories included Newmont Mining of the US and Iamgold, the Canadian miner.
The companies said many of the region’s economies were just returning to stability after decades of civil war. “Without the support of the international community the situation for these economies. . . will be even more catastrophic,” they said.
“The global community has a strong record in responding to natural disasters such as hurricanes or earthquakes. We need a similar strength of resolve to tackle an epidemic.”
The move signals the growing concern in the business community about the potential consequences for their investments in the region. Mining is one of the most important sectors for foreign investment in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Gold and iron ore are the key commodities mined there.
The business leaders’ statement said the economic effect of the Ebola outbreak was “being compounded by subsequent decisions and actions that affect travel to and trade with the region”.
After ignoring the outbreak for months, the international community has increased assistance in the past few weeks, but non-governmental organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières have asked for a more robust intervention.
MSF, which has a long history of involvement with Ebola outbreaks elsewhere on the continent, earlier this month called on UN members to deploy their military and civilian biohazard units to west Africa, warning that this could be the only way to prevent the epidemic from spreading beyond control.
The US and UK said their troops would help set up isolation wards in Ebola-hit countries. The magnitude and duration of the military deployment remains unclear, but the companies praised the initiative, saying it was “exactly what is required”.
Natural resources groups in west Africa are already under pressure due to a drop in gold prices last year and the slipping price of iron ore in recent months. – ft