Asked whether the food shortages will also reach countries outside West Africa, Dr Fan, director-general of the International Food Policy Research Institute, explained Ebola is triggering a food crisis through a series of interrelated factors, including farmer deaths, labour shortages, rising transportation costs, and rising food prices.
“Within these countries, where undernourishment has long been a problem, the food crisis may persist for decades,” Dr.Fan warned.
And because Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia are all net food-importing countries, the Ebola-triggered food crisis is unlikely to spread to other countries in the region or beyond, Dr. Fan added.
“In addition, the costs of staple foods including rice and cassava are rising precipitously in the affected areas as crops are abandoned and as labor shortages grow,” the statement added. As the harvest season is beginning, labour shortages are putting the food security of tens of thousands of people at risk in particularly affected areas.
Food that would be imported from these areas is not making its way to other regions, either.
“So, as we weigh the dangers of this dreaded disease, we must not forget the very real threats it poses to food security,” the International Food Policy Research Institute warned. “The global community must come together to ensure that there are safety nets to protect not only those infected with the disease, but also those whose access to food is severely affected,” IFPRI added.
These safety nets, which could be in the form of cash or in-kind transfers, should be accompanied with nutrition and health interventions. “This is important, because investing in the nutrition and health of vulnerable populations could lower the mortality rate of diseases like Ebola, as nutritional status and infection are intricately linked.” Dr. Fan said
Schools in Sierra Leone have closed, shutting down critical feeding programmes for children. And restrictions on the consumption of bush meat, the suspected source of Ebola, have eliminated a traditional source of protein and nutrition from local diets.
Recent efforts by the World Food Programme (WFP) to provide food assistance to around 1.3 million people in these three countries indicate an idea of the scope of the current crisis. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is also providing food assistance to nearly 90,000 farming households to abate the food security crisis.