threatens food security in West Africa: FAO
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[September 02, 2014]
ROME (Reuters) - The world's worst
Ebola epidemic has put harvests at risk and sent food prices soaring in
West Africa, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on
Tuesday, warning the problem would intensify in coming months.
The FAO issued a special alert for Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea,
the three countries most affected by the outbreak, which has killed
around 1,550 people since the virus was detected in the remote
jungles of southeastern Guinea in March.
Restrictions on people's movements and the establishment of
quarantine zones to contain the spread of the hemorrhagic fever has
led to panic buying, food shortages and price hikes in countries
ill-prepared to absorb the shock.
"Even prior to the Ebola outbreak, households in some of the most
affected areas were spending up to 80 percent of their incomes on
food," said Vincent Martin, head of an FAO unit in Dakar which is
coordinating the agency's response.
"Now these latest price spikes are effectively putting food
completely out of their reach," Martin said in a statement, adding
the food crisis could hinder containment of the disease, which is
typically spread via the bodily fluids of the sick.
Rice and maize production will be scaled back during the
fast-approaching main harvest season as migration and movement
restrictions cause labor shortages on farms, FAO said.
Cash crops like palm oil, cocoa and rubber will be seriously
affected, squeezing the purchasing power of many families, who will
also lose income and nutrition due to the ban on bush meat.
Border crossing closures and the reduction of trade through seaports
have tightened food supplies in the three countries, which are all
net cereal importers, and propelled prices upwards, exacerbated by
higher transport costs.
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The U.N. World Food Programme and FAO have approved an emergency
program to deliver 65,000 tonnes of food to 1.3 million people
affected by Ebola over a three-month period.
The price of cassava at a market in the Liberian capital Monrovia
rose 150 percent in the first weeks of August, the FAO said, adding
that currency depreciation in Sierra Leone and Liberia was likely to
force prices up further.
(Reporting by Isla Binnie; editing by Andrew Roche)
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