Food shortages hit west Africa as the Ebola panic continues
West African nations still struggling to cope with the growing threat of the Ebola virus are now facing growing food shortages that threaten to starve the already beleagured people.
This new problem comes as health experts claim that if the rapidly spreading contagion is not contained quickly, as many as 1.4 million people could be infected by early 2015.
Already, public concern over how the disease is spread has seen transport networks break down and public places, such as markets, cease to run, reducing the chances of people getting hold of fresh food.
In addition many large employers have shut their doors during the crisis, throwing millions of workers on the unemployment scrapheap and making them penniless.
Across west Africa, fear of disease is the driving factor behind every decision. Food markets are closed; travel is restricted. Whole families go into quarantine for fear they have come into contact with the disease. Trucks, including those carrying food, may not be allowed beyond certain areas.
The countries of the region – mainly Sierra Leone, Liberia and Senegal – have gone into an Ebola-induced lockdown. “The lockdown means people cannot go out to do anything,” says Ishmeal Charles, of Catholic aid charity Caritas Freetown. “Now everything is at a standstill. People are getting poorer every day,” says Charles.
The crisis has led to more unemployment in both urban and rural areas. In Freetown, “people have been laid off – staff in hotels and guesthouses,” says Fallah. “Offices have closed down.”
Cut off from the world, families in the Kenema epicentre are suffering from more than fear of Ebola. “The town is closed, except for people like me with the food,” says Fallah.
“They’ve quarantined so many houses and no-one comes in or out, but I had a pass.”
As ever, people are turning to the Church for guidance. “People are coming round to the bishop’s house looking for assistance. Their father or mother has died, there is no breadwinner in the family,” says Patrick Jamiru of Caritas Kenema.
Even when the family breadwinner is healthy, restrictions on movement have a ripple effect that hurts children. “At home, often it is either the father or mother who takes care of all the problems of the family,” says Alexandre Kolie of Caritas Guinea.
“If that person has problems, the whole family will have trouble with food, health, clothing, education and more.” Food prices have gone up, so even people who aren’t in quarantine may have trouble affording it.
For those in mandatory 21-day quarantine because of suspected contact with Ebola, the food situation is even worse.
“There are houses in Kenema and even in Freetown, that are quarantined. They don’t receive food for days,” says Fallah. “There are security guards around the houses. If anyone escapes, if they are caught, it’s a big problem.”
Closed borders don’t just affect local markets and deliveries, but also the shipment of food from other countries.
“Here in Liberia, the staple food is rice,” says Napoleon Cooper, head of Caritas Liberia. “In the general population, there’s a fear that there will be a shortage of food.”
People who are lucky enough to survive the virus may have to restock their households.
“Some Ebola patients survived and were discharged,” says Jamiru. “But the things they were using in their house – their beds and other things – cannot be used again. The medical teams burn it totally.”
Caritas has been working with the dioceses to distribute food: in Guinea, Caritas is reaching out to people under quarantine.
Now Caritas is working on ways to help families who were already living a precarious existence, and whose livelihoods have been dealt a blow.
“These are some of the poorest countries in the world,” says Moira Monacelli of Caritas Italiana. “For the economy, the Ebola crisis is a very big problem. We also need to think of mid-term and long-term help.”