Ebola and food security: local impacts of the outbreak

WFP response to EbolaEbola has been all over the news for the past few months. We’ve heard stories about American aid workers and journalists contracting the disease and being flown back to the U.S. for treatment. We’ve heard about the increasing numbers of deaths in West Africa. We’ve heard about the breach in infection control protocol at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

What has been largely left out of the news is the effect of this Ebola outbreak on the lives of West Africans. Currently, food security is a major concern.

The Ebola outbreak has profoundly affected food security in West Africa, causing prices to rise by an average of 24 percent.  The cost of food and accessibility pose barriers for individuals in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the countries in which the current outbreak is spreading.

Fear and restrictions on movement have led to panic buying and food shortages. Additionally, labor shortages on farms have affected rice and maize production. Border crossing closures and reduction of trade has also profoundly impacted the food availability in these countries.

Elisabeth Byrs, a WFP spokesperson, told Reuters that  “planting and harvesting [are] being disrupted.”

The United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) has approved plans for 65,000 tonnes of food to 1.3 million people; to patients, cases in isolation, and communities badly affected. Just this Saturday, food rations were delivered to 265,000 people in the Waterloo district outside of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. The deliveries aim to prevent the spread of the virus, by stabilizing quarantined families and removing the necessity to leave their homes in search of food.

The aim of the food deliveries is to “prevent this health crisis from becoming a food and nutrition crisis,” Gon Myers, the WFP Country Director in Sierra Leone told ABC News.

Additionally, the World Food Program (WFP) is using mobile phones to carry out a food security survey in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. The first round of the survey has reached 800 people in Sierra Leone.

On Wednesday, October 15, international representatives gathered to the annual World Food Prize Award Ceremony. Though not initially scheduled as a topic, African leaders discussed the effects of Ebola on the food supplies in a press conference, with an available webcast online.

“I think the impact on regional trade is going to be very, very serious,” said Dr. Kanayo Nwanze, President of the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development. “And so we believe that like in any other situation where you have a crisis, we should begin to plan for the aftermath of the crisis.”


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