Ebola Could Be Leading to a Massive Food Crisis in West Africa

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out that Ebola sucks even harder than we thought: not only is it killing people by the thousands, but it could potentially be leading to a catastrophic food shortage in at least Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The AP is reporting that the disease is royally screwing with the agricultural industry in the hardest-hit West African nations. It’s not hard to see how this is happening — in Sierra Leone 40% of the country’s farmers have abandoned their fields. Liberia had attracted $7 billion in international agricultural investments, but those have almost entirely been abandoned.

This crisis isn’t going away. The most salient quote here comes from Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development:

“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,” he said. “When there’s a crisis in Timbuktu it doesn’t stay in Timbuktu anymore. Nowadays it reverberates in Paris, London, Berlin, and Washington.”

That pretty much sums up the issue right there. Americans feel justified in only caring about Ebola when it hits America, not realizing that to ignore it in other countries will only result in a worse outcome for us down the road. The only way the Ebola crisis gets dealt with is if a whole lot of money and a whole lot of effort get thrown at the problem from places that aren’t yet dealing with a massive outbreak.

Agricultural ministers for both countries do say they have a plan in place to work towards recovery, but it’s unclear how that plan would cope with a still-rapidly-escalating crisis. Keep in mind, we’re dealing with potentially 550,000 cases (before correcting for underreporting) in Sierra Leone and Liberia by January 2015* according to the CDC’s model. When you take underreporting into account, that number could reach as high as 1.4 million. We’re rapidly approaching snowball-rolling-down-a-hill territory.

I know, Americans — it’s easy to forget about how serious this issue is since a) it’s happening somewhere else, and b) it’s happening to brown people. But it IS in our power to deal with this. It’ll take a hell of a lot of money, international cooperation, a smart approach, and some luck, but everyone can do something, even if it’s just donating to Doctors Without Borders.

* This model assumes no significant changes in community behavior, such as a reduction in unsafe burial practices. There’s also the fact that a lot of people are fleeing from Western health care workers on sight because of the pervasive myth that they’re the ones spreading Ebola, so that’s fun. I mean, I know white people have been responsible for a whole lot of shitty things, especially towards West Africans, but I promise, this one wasn’t us.

Image via Nixx Photography/Shutterstock.

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