UNITED NATIONS – The widespread outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, which has resulted in over 4,500 deaths so far, is also threatening to trigger a food crisis in the three countries already plagued by poverty and hunger.
Dr. Shenggen Fen, director-general of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), told IPS the crisis is expected to be confined mostly to the countries directly affected by the spreading disease: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Asked whether the food shortages will also reach countries outside West Africa, he said Ebola is triggering a food crisis through a series of interrelated factors, including farmer deaths, labour shortages, rising transportation costs, and rising food prices.
“Within these countries, where undernourishment has long been a problem, the food crisis may persist for decades,” he warned.
And because Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia are all net food-importing countries, the Ebola-triggered food crisis is unlikely to spread to other countries in the region or beyond, Dr. Fan added.
Global food prices tend to have transmission effects on regional or national food prices, but for small markets (on a global scale) such as these three countries, the transmission effect of food prices is unlikely to pass beyond their own boundaries – so long as the disease itself is not transmitted, he said.
According to the latest figures released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are over 9,000 cases of Ebola, including 4,262 cases in Liberia, 3,410 in Sierra Leone and 1,519 in Guinea.
The death toll is highest in Liberia (2,484), followed by Sierra Leone (1,200) and Guinea (862).
U.N. Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters Monday the WHO has officially declared Nigeria free of Ebola virus transmission, after 42 days without a single case.
WHO called it “a spectacular success story that shows that Ebola can be contained”.
“Such a story can help the many other developing countries that are deeply worried by the prospect of an imported Ebola case and are eager to improve their preparedness plans,” he said.
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Dujarric said the announcement comes only a few days after Senegal was also declared Ebola-free.
He said the trust fund set up by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to battle the deadly disease now has about 8.8 million dollars in deposits and 5.0 million dollars in commitments.
In total, 43.5 million dollars have been pledged and the secretary-general continues to urge countries to turn these pledges into action as soon as possible.
He expressed regrets over the Ebola-related death of a UN-Women staff member in Sierra Leone. His spouse is currently receiving treatment.
“All measures to protect staff at the duty station in Sierra Leone are being taken as best as possible under the current circumstances,” Dujarric said.
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