Impending Famine to Add to West Africa’s Woes Over Ebola


Sierra Leone’s fields are without farmers. Its crops go un-reaped. In the quarantine areas, feeding is patchy – some get food, others don’t. People then leave the enforced isolation in search of a meal, so Ebola spreads. In three West African countries where many already live a hand-to-mouth existence, the act of eating is increasingly rare.

Ebola, the virus that has ravaged Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea at an unprecedented rate, continues its devastating spread. The number of dead doubles with each passing month; the bodies unburied. More lives are devastated with each passing day.

And in the absence of a mass-produced vaccine, its treatment – enforced isolation, mass quarantines – now threatens to bring a new crisis: starvation.

Earlier this month, two children who were among the thousands orphaned by the virus, were visited by aid workers in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. At the time, the workers did not have the resources to take the children away. When they returned days later, the children were dead. They died not from Ebola, but starvation.

Yesterday, as the World Health Organisation warned that more than 4,500 people would be dead before the end of the week, a new threat to West Africa’s stability emerged: three quarters of a million people may die from malnutrition, as an unprecedented modern famine follows the disease – if urgent action is not taken.

While Ebola’s direct consequences prompt terror, its indirect results are equally disturbing – food prices spiral, farms are abandoned, meals are scarce and those most in need, the estimated 4,000 orphans of the virus, go hungry.

Speaking on the eve of World Food Day,  Denise Brown, the United Nations World Food Programme’s regional director for West Africa, said: “The world is mobilising and we need to reach the smallest villages in the most remote locations.

“Indications are that things will get worse before they improve. How much worse depends on us all.”

The UN agency estimates that it has provided food to a little over half a million people in the three worst-hit countries. It is aiming to feed at least another 600,000 before the end of October.

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The Independent

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