Leaders of a pair of West African countries, visiting Iowa for the World Food Prize events, say the Ebola crisis has not only taken thousands of lives, it’s also threatening to destroy their economies. Florence Chenoweth is the Minister of Agriculture in Liberia. She says most people in West Africa were not aware of the virus in the first critical months of the outbreak and many refused treatment.
“People are just now beginning to understand that (Ebola) is real and it kills,” Chenoweth said. Around 4,000 people have died in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the countries hardest hit by the disease. Joseph Sam Sesay is the Minister of Agriculture in Sierra Leone, which boasted one of the three fastest growing economies in the world before the Ebola crisis.
“Today, instead of a projected 11.3 percent annual economic growth rate for 2014, we later deflated that to 7 and today, we’re only anticipating something like three-percent,” Sesay said. Around two-thirds of the people in Sierra Leone are farmers with small operations and most are very poor.
The Ebola outbreak has exacerbated their struggles, according to Sesay, as neighboring countries are closing their borders and suspending trade. “Isolating the countries Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone has a more devastating effect,” Sesay said. “We are talking about the movement of goods and people, some of these are humanitarian.”
At a World Food Prize news conference in Des Moines Wednesday, Sesay made a direct appeal for U.S. agencies to further help his country. “The best, for me, is to fight the war where the war is and not to wait until it comes here,” Sesay said. “Please, we are appealing to you to really support us so we can stop this.”
Agencies in the U.S. have committed more than $400 million to efforts to fight Ebola and the U.S. Department of Defense is expected to provide another $1 billion in assistance. In recent weeks, an Iowa-based relief agency has sent 600,000 prepackaged meals to Liberia. Outreach Incorporated has a goal of providing one million meals to the country by the end of the year.