By Moustapha Diallo, IFRC
On a warm and beautiful Sunday in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, beaches are crowded and busy. The ocean roars while children play football and others dance to the beat of local music. Since the Ebola outbreak was declared over, for a third time in January 2016, curfews have been lifted.
For this small west African country which is home to approximately 4.3 million people, the end of the Ebola outbreak is a big relief. Life has returned to normal. People are back to the beaches and night clubs. Markets and schools are re-opened.
“Even if I don’t have food to eat right now, I am very much satisfied. I am happy to see my country stable, people driving cars, going to work and markets, returning to hospitals,” says Garmai Sumo, a volunteer with the Liberia National Red Cross Society during the Ebola crisis.
Over 11,000 people died from Ebola in West Africa. Liberia was hardest hit with over 4,800 deaths. Now, with the infection rate at zero for several months, people are trying to overcome the trauma and rebuild their lives.
“I lost my husband and my son during the Ebola outbreak. I was stigmatized. My family abandoned me, and I had nowhere to go then. I was sleeping on the floor of my friend’s porch during the Ebola period,” says Mariama Bah, an Ebola survivor. “People were not doing business with me for fear of having Ebola, so my business collapsed and I could not provide food for myself and children.”
To feed her family, Mariama sold all her living-room furniture, including her television and room sets. “I had to do this because I needed money to feed my family. It was the only way to survive.”
Customers not returning
Today, Mariama Bah has re-started her business selling vegetables but unlike months ago, customers are not rushing back. “I feel bad as some people continue to avoid me even though Ebola is finished. I just want to get back to a normal life,” she adds.
Beyond psychosocial problems related to stigma and physical health problems, many survivors like Mariama or affected families are facing dire conditions.
“Ebola is no longer in the spotlight since it was declared over. But it is not yet over for many survivors who are very much in need,” says Boweh Barduae, acting Secretary General, Liberia National Red Cross Society.
For Barduae, Ebola has ruined people’s livelihoods. Survivors and affected families still need support, with many having lost parents.
The Liberia National Red Cross Society, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has played a critical role in bringing the Ebola outbreak to zero. Recovery phase activities include providing psychosocial support to communities, rehabilitating water and sanitation facilities, and supporting livelihoods and disaster risk reduction activities, but funding is a big challenge. The 22 million Swiss franc recovery plan has not received any funding to support implementation.
“Without funding, we are considering to slow down the activities and eventually to cancel some of them,” says Barduae.
The result will be a longer recovery period for people like Mariama Bah and other survivors – people who just want to get their lives back on track.