The most shocking headline currently speeding around the web reads, “Ebola Virus Outbreak Could Hit 20,000 Within Nine Months, Warns WHO.” Yet West Africa is facing another crisis along with the devastations of disease: It is fast running out of food. The Washington Post reports:
In quarantined areas, food shortages, not Ebola, are the main concern, said Jean-Alexandre Scaglia, representative of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Liberia. “People are saying: ‘We’re not afraid of dying from Ebola, we’re starving.’ ”
Riots broke out last week in West Point, a coastal shantytown of 70,000 people in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, as the government enforced a quarantine. Scaglia said that such intervention measures ultimately fail if people are not assured access to food.
The decision of foreign businesses to suspend operations in West Africa has been criticized by the World Health Organization, which says that employees delivering food have minimal risk of catching the disease unless they enter quarantined areas. However, companies may also have trouble finding transport to these countries, even if they are willing to take the risk, as more airlines are restricting travel. That’s bad news for countries already nearing the end of their supplies:
[Jean-Alexandre Scaglia, representative of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Liberia, said,] “We estimate the food stock in [Liberia] is something between one month and two months, at its best no more than that,” he said, adding that this may not be enough to reach the November-December harvest period.
These concerns are compounded by uncertainty about whether farming communities will have the incentive or manpower to harvest and worries that the produce, even if harvested, will not be transported or sold, with quarantines in effect.
The combination of food riots, pervasive fear, and a skyrocketing infection rate will make this crisis far more perilous for West Africans, but it also poses a threat to the world. It is harder for local governments to keep famished people in quarantine, as the riot in Monrovia shows. They may find a way to to leave these countries in search of food despite the border closures, making their way into neighboring nations—and from there, perhaps beyond.