The deadly Ebola epidemic could deal a $32 billion-plus blow to the West African economy over the next year if officials cannot get it under control, the World Bank warned today.
If efforts to halt its spread out of a three-country core - Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea - are not successful by December, the entire region faces a real threat of economic catastrophe, the Bank said in a new report.
"In broader regional terms, the economic impacts could be limited if immediate national and international responses succeed in containing the epidemic and mitigating aversion behaviour," it said.
"If, on the other hand, the epidemic spreads into neighbouring countries, some of which have much larger economies, the cumulative two-year impact could reach $32.6 billion by the end of 2015."
The bank noted that small outbreaks in Nigeria and Senegal have been quickly stifled, showing the potential for fast and resolute reactions.
The disease has so far killed nearly 3,500 people, and has already taken a toll on the economy of the three countries, stifling production and consumption.
In the best case scenario - Ebola being brought under control by the end of 2014 - the Bank says the economic cost will be about $359m in the three countries this year and another $129m next year.
For all of West Africa, the cost will run from $3.8 billion to $9 billion.
But in the case that containment comes more slowly in the three core affected countries, and outbreaks surface in neighboring countries, the costs will soar for all, it said.
"The economic impacts of Ebola are already very serious in the core three countries - particularly Liberia and Sierra Leone - and could become catastrophic under a slow-containment, high-Ebola scenario," it added.
The study called for concerted international support not only during the outbreak but after it is contained, to revive the economies most affected.