The World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, has warned that the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa is spreading faster than expected and it goes without saying that it was a key item at the recent U.S.-Africa Summit in Washington, D.C., especially after the first Americans who contracted the virus were brought into the U.S.
The current Ebola outbreak has claimed more than 900 lives, and beyond its obvious and tragic humanitarian impact, it also threatens to pose a serious economic impediment to the affected nations of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone—nations that are not yet at the forefront of the global economy, but have significant reserves of gold, iron ore, bauxite, diamonds and other commodities that still remain largely untapped. Can Ebola affect an important industry that hasn’t been a top performer this year?
“The global commodities industry is the most cyclical of all industries and right now, we’re in a period of underinvestment,” said Paul Miller, an investment banker in the metals and mining department of Johannesburg, South Africa-based Nedbank Capital, which finances companies mining in Ebola-affected countries.
West Africa, Miller said, represents a large and untapped mining opportunity, and “it’s an opportunity that isn’t going to go away, and nor is the economic potential of West Africa.”
But Ebola isn’t showing any signs of retreating, either, and some mining companies have had to shutter operations in the affected nations—most mines are located in the remote areas where the virus is prevalent and likely to affect their workers, if it hasn’t already.
Of course, these companies also have made the necessary investments and instituted the requisite systems to deal with various kinds of risk, including health crises, which are an important consideration in Africa.
“Malaria, for example, is a big problem throughout Africa and many mining companies run [prevention and treatment] programs that work within the surrounding communities as well,” Miller said.