Ebola-hit Liberia fears starvation as quarantine blocks food supplies

Food supplies stop as Liberian army restricts travel from the country's badly affected north to try to halt the spread of deadly epidemic

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 August, 2014, 4:49am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 August, 2014, 4:49am


Residents of northern Liberia have been in a state of peril for months as the deadly Ebola epidemic swept through the region. Now they face a new threat as measures to stem the spread of the virus spark fears of starvation.

To try to contain an epidemic that has cost nearly 1,000 lives throughout west Africa, the Liberian government has quarantined the most badly affected northern provinces – cutting off access with military roadblocks and travel restrictions.

The quarantine has meant that traders have been unable to travel to buy food and farmers cannot harvest their crops, which, in turn, has caused shortages and sent prices soaring.

Siaffa Kamara, from Bopolu, north of the capital Monrovia, said: “People are panicking here; we are afraid to die from hunger. This is the rainy season and it is raining everywhere.

“The little money I had I used to buy rice, which is very expensive. What I bought is not enough for three weeks. I have 25 people to feed in my house.”
Miatta Sharif, also from Bopolu, said: “We agree measures have to be put in place to contain the virus, but at the same time we don’t have to die from hunger.

“Clinics are closed. “If we cannot get food to eat, how do we survive? The victims will be more than that of Ebola.”

If we cannot get food to eat, the victims will be more than that of Ebola
Miatta Sharif, Bopolu resident

The restrictions came into force on Wednesday when Liberia declared a state of emergency to try to stop the spread of virus. The army has been deployed to restrict people’s movement – particularly from the worst-affected provinces into the capital.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf warned the extraordinary measures were needed “for the very survival of our state”.

Defence Minister Brownie Samukai said on Thursday that residents of the virus-hit areas in the north should not try to move.

“Stay where you are because if you leave your place for another place you may not be allowed to go back to where you came from,” he said.

The request means that traders in those areas have not dared to go to Monrovia for supplies.

“The goods I had are finished,” said Paul Fahnbuleh, a rice trader from the country’s northwest.

Watch: What is the Ebola virus

“I don’t have any more rice here. The little that I have I am keeping it for my family.”

Liberian lawmakers have approved an emergency package to provide compensation for those families that have been directly affected by the Ebola epidemic, as well as health workers on the front line. They also considered paying an advance on the salaries of civil servants caught in quarantined zones. But for many, the help is not coming fast enough.

Sando Johnson, a senator in the province of Bomi, northwest of Monrovia, said the restrictions were “severe” and warned that people would die of starvation if they are not relaxed.

“My county has been completely quarantined because soldiers don’t allow anyone to get out of the area and they don’t allow anyone to go there,” he said.

“A bag of rice that sold for 1,300 LD [about HK$110] is now selling for 1,800 LD. The poor people will die of hunger for God’s sake. These are Liberians like others.”

At a military checkpoint on the edge of the quarantine line in Bomy County, many people expressed anger at the restrictions.

“Let the government see reason,” said Augustine Kimber, a plantation worker.

“If they do not, there will be many deaths ... not from Ebola, but from hunger.”

Ebola can kill a person with the virus within days. It causes severe fever and muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in some cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding. Between 60 and 90 per cent of sufferers die.


Virus fears spark border bans

The battle to contain the deadly Ebola outbreak continued on Sunday yesterday, after Nigeria appealed for volunteers to help stop the spread of the virus, but Guinea went back on a statement that it was shutting its land borders with two of its neighbours.

The day after the World Health Organisation declared the epidemic an international health emergency, India – which has put its airports on alert – was among the countries scrambling to impose measures to stop contagion of the spread of the virus, which has claimed almost 1,000 lives.

The UN health agency stopped short of calling for global travel restrictions, but some countries on Saturday began imposing bans on Saturday.
Zambia will refuse entry to citizens from Ebola-hit nations and Chad has suspended all flights from Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.

Nigeria, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are the nations hardest hit by the epidemic, which the  WHO has called the worst in four decades.

Authorities in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city of 20 million people, said they needed volunteers because of a shortage of medical personnel. “I won’t lie about that,” Jide Idris, Lagos state health commissioner, saidon television, as the city , home to some 20 million people  as they confirmed nine cases of Ebola, including two deaths.

In Guinea, the government first reported it was temporarily closing its land borders with its neighbours, Liberia and Sierra Leone. But later it went back on the claim, arguing that it wanted to avoid clandestine border crossings. “We’re not talking about closing borders between Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, rather coercive measures to better control cross-border movements [of people at risk of carrying the virus],” Albert Damantang Camara said a government spokesman. in a telephone interview with AFP late Saturday.

Sierra Leone has deployed about 1,500 troops to enforce quarantine measures in two Ebola-hit eastern districts.

On Saturday, India put its airports in the Asian country of 1.25 billion peopleon alert went on alert and the government opened an emergency helpline. The world’s second-most populous country of 1.25 billion people has nearly 45,000 nationals living in the four west African countries affected by Ebola. Officials said there was a possibility of some of them returning to their home country  to India if the outbreak worsened.

Beyond the epicentre of the epidemic, countries as far away as India were also taking action.

Agence France-Presse