WASHINGTON, Dec 2 (Reuters) - The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is taking a heavy toll on the economies of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, all of which face negative or slower growth next year because of the virus, the World Bank said on Tuesday.
The bank said growth estimates for the three countries hardest hit by Ebola had tumbled since its previous analysis in October, and that projections showed the outbreak costing them more than $2 billion in lost income over the 2014-2015 period.
For this year, gross domestic product growth estimates in Liberia were projected to fall to 2.2 percent, compared with forecasts of 2.5 percent in October and 5.9 percent pre-crisis. In Sierra Leone, 2014 growth was now forecast at 4 percent, down from previous estimates of 8 percent in October and 11.3 percent pre-crisis, the World Bank said.
It lowered its 2014 growth forecast for Guinea to 0.5 percent, compared with 2.4 percent in October and 4.5 percent pre-crisis. It said all three countries had been growing rapidly in recent years and through the first half of 2014.
The bank added that, for 2015, it was projecting negative growth of minus 2.0 percent in Sierra Leone, down from a 7.7 percent growth forecast in October and 8.9 percent before the crisis. It also forecast negative 2015 growth for Guinea of minus 0.2 percent versus October's estimate of 2 percent growth and a pre-outbreak forecast of 4.3 percent.
"In Liberia, where there are signs of progress in containing the epidemic and some increasing economic activity, the updated 2015 growth estimate is 3.0 percent, an increase from 1.0 percent in October, but still less than half the pre-crisis estimate of 6.8 percent," the bank said.
The report comes as the World Bank Group's president, Jim Yong Kim, begins a two-day visit to West Africa to discuss ways of addressing the outbreak.
"This report reinforces why zero Ebola cases must be our goal," Kim said in a statement. "While there are signs of progress, as long as the epidemic continues, the human and economic impact will only grow more devastating."
The World Health Organization said on Monday that some 5,987 people had died of Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. (Reporting by Peter Cooney. Editing by Andre Grenon)