Via The Guardian: Ebola outbreak prompts food scarcity and threat of social conflict. Excerpt:
Ten months after the Ebola outbreak started in Guinea, evidence is mounting that the crisis may be reversing more than a decade of fitful progress in west Africa.
Simon O’Connell, regional director for aid group Mercy Corps, says that – despite several years of 6%-8% growth and significant development gains – Liberia’s gross domestic product per capita is still only about $450 (£281), a figure below prewar levels in 1989.
“It’s taken that entire period, from the war ending in 2003, to just about get back to those prewar levels,” he said. “Then we see the price spikes, this disruption in access to markets, and also the breaking down of social fabrics, the trust between communities, between different demographics and between communities and governments.
“We are … trying to ensure that this outbreak doesn’t undermine development gains and, of course, there is a risk of that the longer the crisis plays out.”
Before this crisis, Liberia was rebuilding after a 14-year period during which there were two civil wars (1989-1996; 1999-2003). More than 250,000 people were killed in the conflicts. Reconstruction was slow: before the Ebola outbreak, the country had only about 50 doctors for a population of more than 4 million. Now, even that progress has been threatened because of a disease that has killed more than 2,700 Liberians.
Mercy Corps, which has been in Liberia since 2002, has carried out an assessment of households and markets in Liberia’s remote Lofa and Nimba counties, and around the capital, Monrovia. It found that 55% of households have experienced a reduction in incomes, 60% have higher expenses, and nearly half are eating fewer meals.
There are fewer trucks on the road – either because they are unable to travel during the 11pm-6am curfew or because drivers do not want to venture into remote areas.
Mercy Corps found rice prices had risen by about 20% while commodities such as palm oil had risen by up to 50% in Monrovia. These findings are echoed by other agencies: the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation says cassava prices have risen by about 150%.
Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute, says smaller harvests are expected for both staple and cash crops because of quarantined zones and restrictions on movement in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
“These disruptions in production, labour markets and trade/transportation have serious implications for food security and nutrition of poor and vulnerable groups,” Fan said. “Poor people spend a large proportion – about 50-70% – of their income on food, so rapid increases in the prices of staple foods harm them by reducing their … access to food.
“The health impacts of Ebola are devastating. But without prompt action by national governments and the international community, Ebola can trigger a food crisis that may persist beyond the disease’s lifecycle.”