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> Posted by Aissatou Diallo, Special Assistant to the CEO, BRAC USA

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For the three countries most affected by Ebola – Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea – the impact of the disease on society came in waves. The first wave happened around March, after the virus was first confirmed in the region. It was characterized by denial, disbelief, and a general numbness. The second wave, in May, happened as the disease spread geographically with a corresponding increase in cases and deaths. During this time, people felt overwhelmed. Even though a lot of people still doubted that the disease existed, they knew something was wrong because people were getting sick and dying at an alarming rate. The third wave, in August, blew the lid wide open on shortcomings and vulnerabilities in the region as Ebola spun out of control. Health systems collapsed, schools closed, communities were quarantined, and supply chain systems broke down. People lived in fear.

These factors contributed to severe economic losses in the region, especially for actors in the informal economy (e.g. traders and farmers) who depend on moving freely to sell their goods at markets and have little financial flexibility or cushion to absorb a shock to the system.

I just returned from a five-week trip to Liberia. In the towns and villages I visited, people told me that August was characterized by bleakness and despair. Communities looked like ghost towns, social ties were weakened, and there were sick people dying on the streets because no hospitals or care facilities were available.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

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New World Bank analysis indicates that along with the already devastating loss of life, the Ebola outbreak could cause “potentially catastrophic” economic effects on West African countries, especially in the three hardest hit. According to the analysis, Liberia’s GDP could fall by 12 percent, Sierra Leone’s by 9 percent, and Guinea’s by 2 percent.

Efforts to contain the epidemic are fueling much of the economic slowdown, like the closings of businesses, transportation infrastructure, and critical air and sea links with other nations. As mentioned in a post on this site a few weeks ago, microfinance institutions are being affected, too.

Between 80 and 90 percent of the economic losses suffered from Ebola are related to containment behavior, a dynamic consistent with recent SARS and H1N1 outbreaks. A lower supply of available workers – due to employee illness, death, and caregiving – is a smaller factor. At the same time, health systems are collapsing under the onslaught of the epidemic, leaving those with other serious illnesses unable to receive treatment. These conditions cause shortages, panicked buying, and speculation, which lead to rises in food prices and inflation. Economic life in the affected areas was already extremely tough to begin with. In Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, more than 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

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> Posted by Center Staff

This edition of top picks features posts highlighting discussions at the 17th Microcredit Summit, how the Ebola crisis is affecting microfinance in West Africa, and new statistics on the continued growth of the mobile money industry worldwide.

The 17th Microcredit Summit, this year’s iteration of the Microcredit Summit Campaign’s annual conference, is underway this week in Merida, Mexico. For those of us not in attendance, the Campaign is live streaming the sessions online. NextBillion is also sharing the experience through blog posts, including one published yesterday providing a report-back on day one of the event. The post offers insights from the day, including notable quotes from keynote speeches and panel presentations, and themes that emerged across sessions.

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> Posted by Alice Allan, Head of Advocacy, CARE International UK

The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. Accordingly, this blog series will spotlight financial inclusion efforts around the globe, share insights coming out of the creation of a roadmap to full financial inclusion, and highlight findings from research on the “invisible market.”

Today marks the start of an important meeting in Monrovia, Liberia, where the UN High Level Panel will look at what might replace the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they expire in 2015. With a focus on economic transformation, the panel hopes that any future framework to reduce poverty includes increasing “jobs and growth,” and “tackling inequality.”

Those of us focused on financial inclusion believe increased access to finance can help achieve these admirable aims. But would the UN High Level Panel agree?

Last week the Banking on Change partnership between Barclays, CARE International, and Plan UK produced Banking on Change: Breaking the Barriers to Financial Inclusion, a report which, amongst other things, makes the case compellingly enough that we believe the UN High Level Panel should take note.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog, except where otherwise noted, are those of the authors and guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Financial Inclusion or its affiliates.