West Africa ‘on brink’ of major food crisis in wake of Ebola outbreak – UN expert

Market stalls with little farm produce due to restrictions in movement in Ebola-affected Kolahun City, Lofa County, Liberia. Photo: FAO Liberia

11 November 2014 – As Ebola continues to ravage West Africa, leaving more than 4,000 people dead, the region is now on the brink of a major food crisis, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food has warned today.

“While the countries hardest hit by the Ebola crisis struggle to contain the devastating virus, they now face a new challenge with experts predicting that over a million people in the region need food aid to allay shortages,” Ms. Hilal Elver said in a statement.

Agriculture, the main economic activity in West Africa with two thirds of the population dependent on farming, has taken a severe toll since the Ebola outbreak hit earlier this year.

The closure of border and sea crossings, a reduction in regional trade, along with a decline in foreign investment has left regional countries in a precarious food situation and farmers in disarray.

“Farmers in West Africa have been severely affected by this crisis, with fear and panic resulting in many having abandoned their farms, this in turn has led to a disruption in food production and a soaring rise in food prices,” Ms. Elver noted.

Staple crops such as rice and maize will reportedly be scaled back due to shortages in farm labour with potential “catastrophic” effect on food security, she added.

Ms. Elver also expressed her deep concern at reports suggesting that, in some cases, communities are facing food shortages due to poor road accessibility, while others have been threatening to evade quarantine because of lack of food supplies.

“In situations where Governments have imposed quarantine on communities or requested for self-quarantine, access to food should be strictly ensured,” urged the human rights expert.

The Special Rapporteur called on the international community to do everything in its power to ensure that the already existing food shortages in these countries, are mitigated, adding that immediate measures must be taken to ensure food security to stricken communities.

Ms. Elver, a Research Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, was appointed Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food by the Human Rights Council in 2014.

Special Rapporteurs are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system. They are not UN staff, do not receive a salary for their work and are independent from any government or organization.


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