By Emma Farge
DAKAR (Reuters) - West Africa's Ebola outbreak threatens to reverse some of Liberia's economic gains made since its 1989-2003 civil war and the government plans to cut its growth forecast for this year, the country's finance minister said on Tuesday.
Liberia's economy had been expected to grow by 5.9 percent this year, but Amara Konneh said this was no longer realistic due to a slowdown in the transport and services sectors and the departure of foreign workers because of the disease.
The latest Ebola outbreak, the most lethal in history, has already killed more than 887 people across West Africa, 255 of them in Liberia. The pace of infection is fastest in Liberia, with 77 new cases recorded in just two days, prompting emergency measures such as school closures and community quarantines.
"We tried to rebuild after the war and now we have an outbreak," Konneh told Reuters in a telephone interview, referring to the civil war that killed up to a quarter of a million people.
"We are now working with the IMF on a new (economic) growth projection and should have it by the end of August."
Konneh urged international firms in the construction, mining and oil exploration sectors to stay in Liberia despite the challenges. Iron ore exports, construction and a robust services sector have led growth in recent years and the government has encouraged oil exploration offshore.
"My message is, 'don't leave the country. Stay with us - let's fight this together'," he said, adding that many foreign workers had already departed.
Ebola is one of the deadliest diseases known in humans with a case fatality rate of up to 90 percent. The death rate in this current outbreak is around 55 percent. There are no effective treatments and no vaccine to protect against infection.
Konneh said President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had asked parliament to reallocate money from the national budget to the health and security sectors to fund measures to control the spread of the disease.
Another portion of a total sum of $20 million earmarked for fighting Ebola is expected to come from loans from international institutions such as the World Bank and African Development Bank, he added.
The money might also be used to subsidize food prices, which Konneh said he expected to rise as agricultural workers stay home to avoid infection.
During the second quarter of 2014, the Ebola outbreak cost Liberia's economy $12 million, he said.
"This may be small money by international standards but it's big for Liberia – it's 2 pct of our budget. If it is not contained it will have serious consequences for our economy and serious social consequences for our people."
(Editing by Gareth Jones)