Ebola escalation could trigger major food crisis

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The global famine warning system is predicting a major food crisis if the Ebola outbreak continues to grow exponentially over the coming months, and the United Nations still hasn’t reached over 750,000 people in need of food in West Africa as prices spiral and farms are abandoned.

On the eve of World Food Day on Thursday, U.N agencies and non-governmental organizations are scrambling to scale up efforts to avert widespread hunger.

“The world is mobilizing and we need to reach the smallest villages in the most remote locations,” Denise Brown, the U.N. World Food Program’s regional director for West Africa, said in a statement Wednesday. “Indications are that things will get worse before they improve. How much worse depends on us all.”

WFP has said it needs to reach 1.3 million people in need in hardest-hit Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

So far, the U.N. agency has provided food to 534,000 people, and it expects to reach between 600,000 and 700,000 this month, Bettina Luescher, WFP’s chief spokesperson in North America, told AP. “And we are working hard to reach and scale up to 1.3 million eventually.”

“We are assessing how families are coping as the virus keeps spreading,” Luescher said. “We expect to have a better understanding of the impact of the Ebola outbreak on food availability and farming activities by the end of October.”

WFP said its first survey using mobile telephones showed that people living in the Kailahun and Kenema districts of Sierra Leone – where most Ebola cases have been reported – are finding it harder to feed their families than people in other parts of the country and are resorting to more desperate measures to cope. More than 80 percent of people in those areas said they ate less expensive food, and 75 percent reported that they have reduced the number of daily means and were serving smaller portions.

Kanayo Nwanze, president of the U.N. International Fund for Agricultural Development, said Monday that up to 40 percent of farms have been abandoned in the worst-affected areas of Sierra Leone and there are already food shortages in Senegal and other countries in West Africa because regional trade has been disrupted.

He said preliminary reports suggest that “trade volume in these markets is half of what it was at this time last year.”

The Famine Early Warning Network known as FEWS NET said in an Oct. 10 report that if the number of Ebola cases reaches 200,000-250,000 by mid-January, large numbers of people in the three worst-affected countries would face moderate to extreme food shortages.

FEWS NET said that in this scenario, traders’ fears of contracting Ebola and restrictions on movement would severely disrupt the availability of food on local markets, contribute to a significant drop in household incomes, and lead to food shortages at local markets.


Full article: Ebola escalation could trigger major food crisis (Associated Press)

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