The FINANCIAL — Employment in Sierra Leone has returned to pre-crisis levels, though earnings and hours worked still lag behind. This is according to respondents in the latest round of high-frequency mobile-phone surveys, led by Statistics Sierra Leone with support from the World Bank Group, assessing how Ebola is impacting people’s livelihoods.
The survey contacted a sample of 1,715 households during May, 2015, which represents 41 percent of the 4,199 households covered in the baseline, nationally-representative Labor Force Survey conducted in July and August 2014, according to the World Bank.
“Sierra Leone is working tirelessly to get to zero cases of Ebola,” said Francis Ato Brown, World Bank Group Country Manager for Sierra Leone. “Our job has to be not only to support the country in eradicating Ebola, but also to look toward economic recovery and toward mitigating the short-, medium-, and long-term impacts of the crisis on the social and economic wellbeing of all Sierra Leoneans.”
According to the World Health Organization, as of June 7, 2015, Sierra Leone had reported more than 12,900 cases of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), and over 3,900 deaths since the outbreak began. In recent months, substantial progress has been made, with a maximum of 15 new cases per week reported following a nationwide lockdown and information campaign at the end of March.
Key findings from the third round of survey responses are as follows:
Employment in Sierra Leone has rebounded to the levels seen in July-August 2014, during the baseline Labor Force Survey. This is particularly good news in Freetown, which had seen a nine percentage point decline in employment at the height of the outbreak in November 2014, and in other urban centers outside Freetown, which have experienced even higher levels of recovery. The self-employed, including a disproportionate number of youth in Freetown, have seen improvement; and, in general more people re-entered than exited this sector between survey rounds 2 and 3.
Although people are returning to work, their hours and earnings are still low. This is particularly acute in rural areas, even though land preparation and rice planting has begun in many parts of the country. Earnings among wage and self-employed workers remain substantially lower than prior to the EVD crisis. For the nearly one third of Sierra Leone’s workforce operating non-farm household enterprises, revenues remain markedly lower than in July-August 2014.
Agriculture is showing positive signs as the new planting season begins. Yields for the 2014 harvest were comparable to previous harvests, and the accompanying sales and hiring of seasonal labor indicate that rural commodity and temporary labor markets are returning to normal.
Use of basic social services continues to increase. Maternal health care service utilization in particular has shown signs of improvement; for example, the share of households reporting that a member gave birth in the two months prior to the survey and did so in a hospital or clinic increased from 28 percent in November 2014 to 64 percent in January/February 2015, and then to 89 percent in May.
A majority of school-aged children, meaning those between ages 6 and 17, have returned to school. Of those households that include at least one school-aged member, 87 percent report that all of those children are attending. For those students not attending, only less than two percent of households said that the school was unsafe or still closed due to Ebola.
It is important to note, however, that the findings on usage of public services are likely more representative of better-off households, and that the actual nationwide percentages are probably lower.
“With three rounds of surveys and data analysis completed, we have been able to track and pinpoint the most urgent socioeconomic concerns for many households in Sierra Leone,” said Kristen Himelein, Poverty Economist for Sierra Leone at the World Bank Group. “The impacts of the Ebola crisis are likely to linger well into the future, and economic recovery will hinge on understanding which sectors and groups need the most support to get back on their feet.”