The deadly Ebola virus that has killed more than 1,000 in West Africa is disrupting the flow of goods, forcing the United Nations to plan food convoys for up to a million people as hunger threatens the largely impoverished area.
Amid roadblocks manned by troops and pervasive fear among the population of the dreaded disease, the worst-ever outbreak of Ebola is increasingly impacting the food supply in three countries.
The impacts are evident in Guinea's capital of Conakry, where fruit and vegetables no longer arrive from the country's breadbasket. In Sierra Leone and Liberia, several markets have been shut down. The price of rice and other staples is soaring in areas under Ebola quarantine.
Hunters of bushmeat, which can carry the Ebola virus, have lost their livelihoods, and farmers in some areas have been cut off from their fields. Price-gouging hurts people who struggle to feed themselves in the best of times, observers say.
While none of the regulations restricts the movement of basic necessities, fear and inconvenience are disrupting supplies. Some 1 million people in isolated areas might need food assistance in the coming months, according to the U.N. World Food Program, which is preparing a regional emergency operation to bring food by convoy to the needy. The three-month operation can be extended.
The World Health Organization warned this week that the outbreak could last for another several months and that its size may be vastly underestimated.
"It's a health crisis, but it has impacted food security," WFP spokeswoman Fabienne Pompey said. The U.N. food agency has already provided aid for months to several thousand people, including those in isolation wards and their families.
Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which have imposed some internal restrictions on travel, are becoming more isolated as regional airlines suspend flights to the three countries. Major international airlines are still flying in, but the U.N. will start flights for humanitarian workers on Saturday to ensure aid operations aren't interrupted. In the coming weeks, they will also ferry staff to remote areas by helicopter.