Myers – the Priority Is to Feed People in Treatment Centers

Food experts predict a food crisis if Ebola continues to spread. The Word Food Program (WFP) has provided food aid to over half a million people but still needs to reach six times that number.nbspon Myers is WFP’s country director in Sierra Leone.

DW: Are the Ebola-hit countries, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia on the brink of famine?

Gon Myers: What I can say is that Ebola is having a direct consequence on food production in Sierra Leone. There is a reduced labor capacity. We’ve been told that 75 percent of the victims are farmers and this has a long-term impact on nutrition. In the past, school-feeding provided a safety net to some of the poorest, but that has been disrupted too. We also expect a fall in agricultural production due to a reduced labor force, fear and stigmatization at the community level. While we do not have hard data at this stage, from anecdotal evidence we can say that there could be a serious impact on food security.

And has this shortage of food solely been brought about by the Ebola outbreak?

Before the crisis, six percent of Sierra Leone’s population was severely affected by food insecurity, according to WFP surveys from 2011. We have been assisting communities in the chiefdoms affected by food insecurity. These chiefdoms were the first to be affected by the Ebola outbreak in Kailahun district.

Since the end of the war, Sierra Leone has not been able to feed itself sufficiently. Most of the food is imported. Rice is imported. They have a big potential for producing, but they have not restored the pre-war status that they had, when they produced enough cereals to feed themselves and neighboring countries.

What is the WFP in Sierra Leone doing to reach those who desperately need food aid?

WFP first started by feeding around 28,000 beneficiaries, when the crisis was localized in Kailahun. Then it extended to Kenema and WFP stepped up the food distribution to over 50,000. Then it swept across the country and WFP moved up the distribution to around 400,000. We think that between October and December, we will reach around 600,000 beneficiaries. The priority is to make sure that people in treatment centers are provided with sufficient nutritious foods that will boost their immunity. The next priority is providing food to households that have been quarantined. And then there are the households that experience a collateral effect from Ebola. If there are 10 houses in a village and three have been quarantined, we think that the difficulties will affect the other households as well. So it makes sense for WFP to feed all of the households in that village.

What is being done to encourage farmers who have abandoned their farms to resume farming?

That is a serious problem. WFP has a project called “Purchase for Progress”. The few farmers who have cultivated have difficulties taking their product to the markets because the markets have been closed. So there is a need for WFP to make sure that some of this food is bought from the farmers. WFP has a good database on the farmers. We have been supporting the small-holder commercialization program of the Ministry of Agriculture. Through that structure we are able to speak to farmers and are able to see what their situation is. So if they are in the position to produce food, we can buy some of that food off them and use it in the Ebola emergency response.

Source : Deutsche Welle

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