Thanks to Ebola Trending News for tweeting the link to this important article in The Atlantic: Ebola’s Hidden Costs. It's a useful antidote to the premature euphoria I sense in the reports about declining (or even level) case incidence. Excerpt (but read the whole thing):
Even as Ebola infection rates appear to be leveling off in the country, the disease’s less visible but long-term impacts on communities and the economy are taking shape.
On December 17, the UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program estimated that 120,000 Sierra Leoneans have become “food insecure” as a result of Ebola, meaning they neither have the food they need nor are able to buy it. By March, the report predicted, the number will rise to 280,000. In other words, the number of people in Sierra Leone who have died from Ebola—just over 3,000, to date—will be only a fraction of the number who will go hungry from it.
This is in large part because Ebola poses an almost impossible quandary in Sierra Leone, where the outbreak has taken the greatest human toll. Prevention of the disease requires people to distance themselves from one another.
But agriculture, the country’s lifeblood, relies on people coming together. If the quintessential image of American farming is a lone figure riding a tractor or a combine, the picture in Sierra Leone is instead dozens of men and women using machetes, shovels, and their bare hands. As they touch, talk, and sweat their way across a field, the work they do is inherently connective.
“Farming unites us,” explained Bondu Lebbe, the president of the Kono Women’s Cooperative, a marketing collective whose aim is to empower its 5,000 female members. (Ngekia is a chairwoman.) Before Ebola, the cooperative would normally assemble 100 or 200 people at a time to work in members’ fields. “It’s not like in Europe,” she told me. “When we go to the farm, we come together. We talk about our families. We solve our problems. We give courage to each other.”
Over the past year, farming in much of Sierra Leone has been hindered by the disconnection Ebola demands and the distrust that disconnection breeds. In telephone interviews, farmers and agricultural officials described the same scenarios repeatedly. Many farmers are afraid to hire the additional hands they need for planting, weeding, and harvesting, thinking outsiders might bear the disease. Many workers fear farmers, like Ngekia, whom they suspect of having some link to Ebola. And the seasonal migration of laborers has been obstructed by lockdowns that force people to stay in one place and blockades that impede movement when migration is allowed.
Even when manpower is available, critical mass is hard to achieve. In most cases, the government has prohibited gatherings of more than five people. Lebbe said that her planting crews are now small, and in the field people keep their distance from one another. But that is better than nothing at all. In the areas hardest hit by Ebola, an uncounted number of farms lie fallow—because farmers died, because farm families were shattered by death, or because people simply abandoned their land, having run away to escape the threat of disease or the pain of losing loved ones to it.
Rice has gone unplanted in some places and unharvested in others. Where labor was in short supply to defend against weeds, rodents, and birds, yields have suffered. Some areas unscathed by Ebola have still struggled: Even as farmers have harvested good crops of rice and other foods, they have been challenged to sell them because markets are closed and roads are blocked.
So now the intense-transmission countries face what you might call a Catch-44, a double Catch-22: