The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has warned that the Ebola outbreak constitutes a serious threat to food harvests in West Africa.
It has raised a special alert for Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the three countries worst affected.
Rice and maize production will be particularly affected during the coming harvest season, says the FAO, with food shortages to worsen in coming months.
The outbreak has killed at least 1,550 of the 3,000 people in four countries since March – the worst Ebola outbreak in history.
For months now, quarantine zones and restrictions on movement imposed to help contain the Ebola disease have severely hampered the transport and sale of food, says the Rome-based organisation. As a result, food prices have shot up, as panic buying and shortages have set in, and getting access to food has become a pressing concern for many people in all three worst-hit countries in West Africa.
The price of cassava, for example, rose 150% in the first weeks of August in the Liberian capital, Monrovia.
“Even prior to the Ebola outbreak, households in some of the affected areas were spending up to 80% of their incomes on food,” said Vincent Martin, head of the FAO’s Dakar-based Resilience Hub, which is co-ordinating the agency’s emergency response.
“These latest price spikes are effectively putting food completely out of their reach,” he added.
To meet short-term food needs, the FAO has jointly approved an emergency programme with the UN’s World Food Programme to deliver 65,000 tonnes of food to the estimated 1.3 million people affected by Ebola over three months.