By Paul Wiseman
WASHINGTON — Caterpillar (CAT) has evacuated a handful of employees from Liberia. Canadian Overseas Petroleum Ltd. (XOP) has suspended a drilling project. British Airways (IAG) has canceled flights to the region. ExxonMobil (XOM) and Chevron (CVX) are waiting to see whether health officials can contain the danger.
The Ebola outbreak, which has claimed nearly 1,000 lives, is disrupting business and inflicting economic damage in the three African countries at the center of the crisis: Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. So far, analysts say the crisis doesn't threaten the broader African or global economies.
"We must make sure it is controlled and contained as quickly as possible," said Olusegun Aganga, trade minister in Nigeria, which has confirmed nine cases of Ebola. "Once that is done, I don't think it will have a lasting impact on the economy."
The World Health Organization on Friday declared the outbreak an international public health emergency. The WHO didn't recommend any travel or trade bans. But it cautioned anyone who had had close contact with Ebola patients to avoid international travel and urged exit screenings at international airports and border crossings.
"When you have a widespread outbreak of Ebola, you can end up with a panic," said John Campbell, senior fellow for Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. "People won't go to work. Expatriates will leave. Economic activity will slow. Fields won't get planted."
The World Bank estimates that the outbreak will shrink economic growth in Guinea, where the crisis emerged in March, from 4.5 percent to 3.5 percent this year.