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West Africa on the brink of a major food crisis as Ebola threatens food security, warns UN expert

GENEVA (11 November 2014) – As Ebola continues to ravage West Africa, leaving more than 4000 people dead, the region is now on the brink of a major food crisis, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, 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. Elver said.

“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,” she 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.”

Agriculture is the main economic activity in West Africa with two thirds of the population dependent on farming. “The closure of border and sea crossings, a reduction in regional trade, along with a decline in foreign investment, and diminished purchasing power of tens of thousands of already vulnerable households, leaves these countries in a precarious situation in relation to food security and access to an adequate and nutritional diet,” the expert explained.

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 measures must be taken, with immediate effect, to restore infrastructure and ensure food security to stricken communities.

Hilal Elver (Turkey) is a Research Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She was appointed Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food by the Human Rights Council in 2014. The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Food/Pages/FoodIndex.aspx

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