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2016-08_dc

24 D+C  e-Paper  August 2016 that were put in place to stem the disease applied to everyone. Ebola became a social leveller. Today, existential fears overshadow the relief that the epidemic is over and freedom of movement has returned. “No one at present can say for sure how the virus will develop in the bodies of those who survived,” says Archchun Ariyarajah of the World Health Organi­ zation (WHO) in Freetown. Survivors have to cope with all sorts of symptoms on a daily basis, and many symptoms are delayed, ranging from awful joint pain to severely impaired vision and depressive moods. This state of affairs has an impact on households and society as the loss of a breadwinner, even temporarily, may plunge entire families into destitution. The acute poverty in which the people live makes healing twice as hard as it would be anyway. “We were very poor even before the epidemic. While it lasted, we couldn’t cultivate our fields because we were quaran- tined. We lost the harvest and couldn’t build reserves,” says Musa Koroma. His eyes are red, his athletic body is crippled by pain, and he has lost everything he once owned: “After we were taken to the Ebola centre, eve- rything was burned as a security measure. We face ruin, like those who returned home after the civil war.” Decades of brutal strife only ended in 2002. According to its recently published post-Ebola strategy, the government is contemplating to pro- vide Ebola survivors with free health care. But such a promise will not help much in the short term given that most people have no health facilities within their reach. Many survivors’ suffering is compounded by the fact that they are ostracised and treated with mistrust by those around them. In some places, they are held responsible for the whole calamity and cannot return home. “Even relatives react with hostility, because, even after having coped with extreme poverty for decades, many simply don’t know how to find the means to survive,” says Abu Brima of Network Move- ment for Justice and Development (NMJD), a human- rights organisation. He wants all anti-stigmatisation measures to be community based, so responsibility is shared, and survivors are not isolated. After the war, segregation proved counter-productive, when the Boom and bust Due to its fertile soil and abundant resources, Sierra Leone is actually a rich country, where better living, housing and working conditions could easily be achieved for the vast majority of people. However, diamond, rutile, gold and other mining activities have only served the interests of a small elite. The agreements concluded between the government and private-sector companies have largely freed the latter from any sense of social responsibility. Results include massive exploitation, environmental damage, expropriations and evictions. By granting tax breaks to the mining com- panies and selling large tracts of land, the government has deprived itself of strong sources of revenue and thus undermined its own ability to ensure universal access to health care and education. In 2012, the tax incentives for mining companies were 15 times greater than the budgets for health care and education (Natural Resource Watch 2014). Land grabs plunge herders, small farmers, fishermen, agricultural workers and nomads into poverty by denying them vital access to land and water. In recent years, Sierra Leone has experi- enced a huge economic boom, fuelled significantly by revenues from the extrac- tive sector. Even though many in the coun- try have profited from the improvements in transport infrastructure and power sup- ply, the standard of living is still as precari- ous for the majority of the people as it was in the time after the civil war. State institu- tions have not strengthened in the course of the economic boom, and corruption – the abuse of public office for private gains – has become worse. In 2013, the country’s gross domestic product grew by a hefty 20 %. Because of the Ebola epidemic and a global fall in com- modity prices, it shrank by the same rate in 2015. Other countries’ response to the health crises compounded that economic disaster. “The countries affected by Ebola were forced into total economic and politi- cal isolation,” says Laurie Garrett, a science journalist. Because of the Ebola outbreak, 40 countries unilaterally imposed travel restrictions in spite of a categorical recom- mendation of the World Health Organiza- tion (WHO) not to do so. British Airways stopped flights to the region, and other airlines followed suit. These measures breached the binding WHO rules on trade and travel in the event of an epidemic and made the work of the aid agencies much more difficult. Regional and international trade relations collapsed, in some places food prices doubled. Sierra Leone’s extrac- tive sector, which was already hurt by low iron ore prices, went into free fall. Source Natural Resource Watch: Report on Sierra Leone. http://ibissierraleone.org/sites/default/files/media/pdf_ global/sierra_leone_pdf/sierra_leone_nrw_final.pdf Extractive industries have not improved living conditions for the majority of people: a diamond mine in eastern Sierra Leone. Graben/Lineair

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