IMPACT

Ebola Epidemic Could Lead To 'Hunger Crisis Of Epic Proportions' For West Africa

MONROVIA, LIBERIA - OCTOBER 15: People crowd watch Red Cross members as they carry dead body of Mambodou Aliyu (35) died due
MONROVIA, LIBERIA - OCTOBER 15: People crowd watch Red Cross members as they carry dead body of Mambodou Aliyu (35) died due to the Ebola virus, in Monrovia, Liberia on 15 October, 2014. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Financial aid and global coordination are needed to prevent the Ebola health care crisis from becoming a food emergency, agriculture ministers from West African nations at the center of the Ebola outbreak said Wednesday.

In Sierra Leone, where thousands are infected and more than 900 have died, 40 percent of the farmers have abandoned their fields, said Joseph Sam Sesay, minister of agriculture, forestry and food security.

Coffee and cocoa beans amount to about 90 percent of the country's agricultural exports, and the region where they are grown has been struck hard by the virus.

"Farms have been abandoned. Some families have been wiped away. Some villages have been wiped away. It is very serious," Sesay said. "We have to understand that agriculture is the mainstay of our economies. If agriculture is down our economies will be down."

Sierra Leone's economy was expected to grow more than 11 percent this year until Ebola struck in May. Now growth is only predicted to be around 3 percent, he said.

Liberia Agriculture Minister Florence Chenoweth says billions of dollars of outside agricultural investment is gone because farming has been decimated.

Liberia expected 9 percent economic growth but has ratcheted it down twice to about 2 percent, Chenoweth said. The nation had attracted $17.6 billion of foreign investment of which $7 was for agricultural development but those investors have left, she said, adding that a recovery plan has been developed.

"We are very determined, very resilient people," she said. "We have not as ministers of agriculture put forward a recovery plan for nothing. We will implement that plan ... and rebuild our country's agricultural sector."

Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, a United Nations agency based in Rome, said the Ebola epidemic is strangling regional trade and could "lead to a hunger crisis of epic proportions for West Africa."

International food and medical assistance is needed to stem the spread of Ebola, he said.

"It is unfortunate that the international community does not look up to crises when they occur in what I call the forgotten world, the invisible world where people die in rural areas from drought or disease until it grows out of proportion or until it begins to effect the larger international community," Nwanze said. "When there's a crisis in Timbuktu it doesn't stay in Timbuktu anymore. Nowadays it reverberates in Paris, London, Berlin, and Washington."

The officials spoke Wednesday at the World Food Prize Foundation annual meeting in Des Moines where government, academic, corporate, nonprofit agriculture and food experts gather to discuss issues of hunger and boosting agricultural productivity.

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BEFORE YOU GO

  • 1 It's voluntary
    No passengers are required to be screened for symptoms.

Sorious Samura, a journalist who travelled via Brussels from Liberia
    ASSOCIATED PRESS taken in Morocco
    No passengers are required to be screened for symptoms. Sorious Samura, a journalist who travelled via Brussels from Liberia, told The Guardian that he was surprised the tests were voluntary. “I could have just come throughout without any screening. That is how scary it is,” he said.
  • 2 Infected people may not be showing symptoms
    There is an incubation period of between 2 and 21 days before symptoms start to show, according to the World Health Organisat
    Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
    There is an incubation period of between 2 and 21 days before symptoms start to show, according to the World Health Organisation, so the virus is undetectable with temperature screening at that stage.
  • 3 The virus could look like flu
    Symptoms in the late stages of Ebola include bleeding from your eyes, but early symptoms like fever and sneezing could easily
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Symptoms in the late stages of Ebola include bleeding from your eyes, but early symptoms like fever and sneezing could easily be mistaken for flu or another regular illness. Blood tests that identify the disease more precisely take hours so can't be done at an airport. Dr Ben Neuman, a virologist at the University of Reading, told The Telegraph: “It would not surprise me if airport screening measures mainly caught unfortunate passengers with seasonal ailments who were unlucky enough to have recently been to Africa.”
  • 4 Hand-shaking
    Immigration officers have reportedly been shaking hands with passengers they screened at Heathrow. Hand-to-hand contact is un
    Abdeljalil Bounhar/AP
    Immigration officers have reportedly been shaking hands with passengers they screened at Heathrow. Hand-to-hand contact is unlikely to cause Ebola to spread - US President Obama shook hands with nurses treating an Ebola patient in Atlanta. The virus only travels through direct contact with an infected person's bodily fluid, but this does include sweat, and many observers felt that skin-to-skin contact between staff and passengers seemed unnecessary.
  • 5 Airports didn’t even know it was coming
    Gatwick Airport said it was in the dark over enhanced Ebola tests just three days before they were due to start. 

A spokesma
    Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
    Gatwick Airport said it was in the dark over enhanced Ebola tests just three days before they were due to start. A spokesman for the airport said it was still waiting for Public Health England to let it know the plans on the Friday before the screenings started on a Monday.
  • 6 Border agency workers aren't doctors
    As the lack of up-to-date information at Gatwick shows, airport staff who do have to help assess people for Ebola were traine
    LUKE MACGREGOR via Getty Images
    As the lack of up-to-date information at Gatwick shows, airport staff who do have to help assess people for Ebola were trained last minute. Many have been described - understandably - as being inexperienced at diagnosing the complex disease.
  • 7 It would be quite possible to hide having Ebola
    Certainly in the early stages. Those who fear they may have the virus, or are sick with a common illness like flu, can take i
    CELLOU BINANI via Getty Images in Guinea
    Certainly in the early stages. Those who fear they may have the virus, or are sick with a common illness like flu, can take ibuprofen to lower their temperature and wouldn't be detected by the scanners.
  • 8 You can't trust people to be honest
    Experts have said you can't rely on travellers to tell the truth about who they have had contact with - or to know if those p
    Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
    Experts have said you can't rely on travellers to tell the truth about who they have had contact with - or to know if those people have Ebola. Extra screenings would not have spotted any risk for Thomas Duncan, the Ebola victim who died in Texas. He told officials he had not been in contact with anyone with Ebola, but had actually visited someone who was dying of it - though he said he believed they had malaria.
  • 9 It's not that simple to work out who's been where
    There are no direct flights to the UK from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea, so means people travelling from those countries h
    Boris Grdanoski/AP
    There are no direct flights to the UK from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea, so means people travelling from those countries have to catch a connecting flight. They could arrive at airports other than Heathrow and Gatwick, which are the only ones carrying out screening, or could have arrived on various routes through Europe. Screening every passenger - an expensive and time-consuming task - would be the only way to ensure anyone who had recently been to a high-risk country would be checked.