Ebola outbreak could lead to food crisis, U.N. says

The Ebola health crisis threatens to turn into a much broader “food crisis” in some of the world’s most impoverished countries, according to the United Nations’ World Food Program.

The program is scaling up its operations in West Africa to provide food to 1.3 million people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The food will go to people being treated for Ebola; their relatives; and those who have been quarantined by their governments, in an effort to halt the spread of Ebola.

“The food chain is threatened at many levels,” the World Food Program said in a statement. Hundreds of families have lost loved ones, many of whom were their family’s breadwinners.

Farmers are leaving their crops as they flee areas ravaged by Ebola, according to a statement from the food program. People are not able to travel and trade freely, as countries close borders and international airlines cancel flights, says Michael Stulman of Catholic Relief Services. People are also not able to hunt for bush meat, a practice that has been banned in some places due to the high risk of contracting Ebola while butchering the animals. Bats and apes can carry Ebola.

“We have already seen alarming price increases on imported food commodities such as rice,” Stulman says. “The harvest this season is going to be seriously compromised because many people have been unable to access their farms due to the travel restrictions and other emergency measures in place.”

Food prices in affected countries are already rising, Stulman says. The cost of a 110-pound bag of rice, for example, has risen from $37.50 to $45.40 for local rice in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. The cost of imported rice rose $15.50.

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