2 September 2014

Africa: UN 'Gravely Concerned' Over Food Shortages in Ebola-Hit Countries

The UN has warned of "grave food security concerns" due to trade restrictions and labor shortages in Ebola-afflicted countries. Food prices are on the rise, as is panic buying.

Restricted cross-border trade and labor shortages in countries hit by the deadly Ebola outbreak have raised "grave food security concerns," the United Nations said on Tuesday.

Many of the measures enforced by authorities in affected nations, which include quarantine zones and border closures, are restricting cross-border trade.

The UN has also warned that food prices could rise significantly in a matter of weeks, as quarantine measures will stop many farmers from accessing rice and corn fields during the harvest season.

In one of Liberia's main markets, the price of cassava increased by 150 per cent in the first weeks of August, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said.

Restrictions on movement in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have already led to panic buying, food shortages and harsh price rises, especially in towns and cities.

"With the main harvest now at risk and trade and movements of goods severely restricted, food insecurity is poised to intensify in the weeks and months to come," said Bukar Tijani, FAO Regional Representative for Africa.

"The situation will have long-lasting impacts on farmers' livelihoods and rural economies," Tijani added.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has claimed more than 1,500 lives and infected over 3,000 people since March.

A separate outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo has killed 31 people.

Price hikes "putting food out of reach"

Vincent Martin, Head of FAO's Resilience Hub in Dakar, Senegal, said that even before the Ebola outbreak, households in some affected areas were already spending up to 80 percent of their incomes on food.

"Now these latest price spikes are effectively putting food completely out of their reach. This situation may have social repercussions that could lead to subsequent impact on the disease containment," Martin added.

The WHO also fears that it could take six to nine months and at least $490 million (373 million euros) to bring the hemorrhagic virus under control, by which point over 20,000 people could be infected.

A regional emergency operation to get 65,000 tonnes of food to 1.3 million people in the areas worst-hit by Ebola has been launched by the UN's World Food program (WFP).

However, despite the impending food crisis, the FAO said that "preventing further loss of human life and stopping the spread of the virus" remained the organization's top priority.

ksb/jr (AP, AFP)

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