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Video: Battling Ebola, then food shortages in Sierra Leone

FRANCE 24

Ebola survivors in Sierra Leone find they have successfully battled the deadly disease only to confront a food crisis fueled by high prices, decreased agricultural yields and falling imports.

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Sashaying elegantly with her hands on her hips and a huge smile across her beautiful face, Aminata Kargbo makes her way to a waiting nurse amid loud cheers from the crowd gathered at an Ebola treatment unit in the Sierra Leonean capital of Freetown.

A 23-year-old former beauty queen, Kargbo is being discharged from the unit along with 55 other Ebola survivors.

"Congratulations,” says a grinning nurse as she hands Kargbo her health clearance certificate. “Good luck and well done."

But just minutes before leaving the unit, Kargbo suddenly buries her face in her hands as the initial euphoria subsidies and the reality of her situation hits her.

Kargbo caught Ebola from her aunt four weeks ago. Now she has to return to her old life – but it won’t be the same. "I've lost my father and even as I am talking to you, my mother has passed away but they were hiding it from me,” she says disconsolately before picking up her spirits. “But I have courage and zeal. I will go and start my life – new, fresh,” she says with emphasis.

There is help for Kargbo and the other survivors at the Ebola unit to start that new life.

Before they leave, the UN’s World Food Programme gives them a one-month supply of basic food items such as flour and oil. This is particularly useful since household items of Ebola patients are often destroyed and their cupboards emptied as a precautionary measure.

But not everyone in Sierra Leone, an impoverished nation that has been hardest hit by the latest Ebola outbreak, is as fortunate.

In Looking Town, a derelict neighbourhood perched on one of the hilltops above Freetown, residents say Ebola-hit families have been quarantined without adequate food stocks to last them through the isolation period.

Peter Mondeh, a Looking Town resident, points to a cluster of houses where families were quarantined for over 20 days. “They were given one bag of rice between three houses. That was all. That rice lasted them just two or three days, then it was finished, they had nothing,” said Mondeh.

A food crisis in the countryside

In the countryside, the situation is worse. In Largo, in eastern Sierra Leone, one of the areas first hit by Ebola, the government restricted movements and trade across the whole district in an effort to contain the disease. But this has led to a decrease in the supply of local and imported goods, pushing food prices up by 25%.

"We can't afford food in the market. So we've been trying to grow things ourselves," says Iyesatta Vandy, a Largo resident.

The outbreak has also destroyed agriculture, the mainstay of this region.

Lasana Kajue is, a rice farmer, belongs to a farming collective called the Kona Kpindi Agricultural Company, which produced around 25 metric tonnes of rice per year before the Ebola outbreak.

But emergency laws introduced to contain Ebola have banned group gatherings – and that has seriously affected this farming collective.

"Since this law that said 'don't group together' [was introduced] automatically labour has fallen. Less labour [means] low production,” explains Kajue.

That low production has cut profits and, for many, destroyed hopes of earning a livelihood.

Unless local food production starts again, experts have warned of a major food crisis by March 2015 in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea - the three West African nations hardest hit by Ebola.

(Programme prepared by Elise Duffau and Patrick Lovett)

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