Ebola’s Second Punch: Hunger

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Fudia Lansana once thought that nothing could be as terrifying as becoming one of more than 14,000 people infected with Ebola in Sierra Leone. But as her household of nine went from eating three meals a day to two, and then from two to one, Fudia realized she was facing something just as scary: hunger.

Fudia Lansana is back at work on her farm in Sierra Leone after the Ebola outbreak kept her at home without food for her family. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS
Fudia Lansana is back at work on her farm in Sierra Leone after the Ebola outbreak kept her at home without food for her family. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS
Under normal circumstances, Fudia would walk a few miles from her village to work on her farm with friends and family, but these were far from normal times. The government—in an effort to stop the spread of Ebola—restricted movement and prohibited public gatherings.

“Farming is our source of survival, but things were locked down during the Ebola era,” says Fudia. “We couldn’t reach the farm, so having enough food was very difficult.”

Fudia survived for months on savings and borrowed money. But even now that the Ebola outbreak is over, she and other farmers still feel its effects. Their farms are overwhelmed by weeds after months of neglect. It will be awhile before they can prepare the land, plant new crops and collect the harvest to replenish their depleted food stocks.

Thanks to Catholic Relief Services and the U.S. Agency for International Development Food for Peace program, they are receiving cash assistance. The monthly $30 distributions target nearly 24,000 people in Kenema district, which has one of the highest rates of extreme poverty and chronic malnutrition in Sierra Leone.

The cash distributions are a bridge to get farmers through the next 10 months. They are helping farmers make ends meet until markets and food production recover and income-earning opportunities increase.

Life Before Ebola

Before the Ebola outbreak, Sierra Leone was still feeling the effects of a brutal decade-long civil war that ended in 2002. More than 60% of the population was living on less than $1.25 a day, according to the United Nations Development Program. Life expectancy was 48.

“Life was difficult then too,” says Battu Koroma, the breadwinner for her family of eight. “Since I lost my husband during the war, things were hard. But then during the outbreak, I could not farm or visit my family. I would take loans from people. I would give away my clothes just for a cup of rice.”

Ebola’s Economic Impact

Children benefited from cash assistance CRS distributed to more than 4,000 families to invest in their farms and buy food. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS
Children benefited from cash assistance CRS distributed to more than 4,000 families to invest in their farms and buy food. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS
“If you didn’t have money saved, you couldn’t afford to buy food,” explains Fudia. “During the Ebola outbreak, I was surviving on plain rice.”

She buys rice, fish and fruit at markets in her village. Fudia and others who received cash distributions were encouraged to buy locally produced food, which ensures the money supports merchants in the community. This helps markets recover and community-based food producers and buyers get back on their feet.

“Everyone is benefiting from this, including local businesses,” Fudia says. “When the money isn’t there in the community, businesses can’t sell, so they don’t make money.”

Cash distributions also mean people have the flexibility to purchase what’s most important for their family. For example, they can buy a variety of nutritious foods at the market, or seeds to restart their farm.

‘Getting More Life’

Fudia chose to invest her first $30 installment in her farm.

“I have been able to hire people to help prepare my land for planting seeds and to increase the size,” she says. “This will change our lives.”

Fudia also appreciates the education she received by participating in the food assistance program. “I’ve learned about nutrition and health care,” she says. “I can take care of my family, improve my farm and eat well.”

CRS is helping improve lives and uphold human dignity in more than 100 countries around the world by supporting families like Fudia’s.

“Food brings life,” she says. “And with this money, I’m getting more life.”

USAID, through its Food for Peace program, partners with seven nongovernmental organizations, including CRS, across Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, to address acute food needs. The program uses a cash-based approach that restores household purchasing power, promotes the recovery of market function and trade, and supports agricultural production.

Since the Ebola crisis began in 2014, Food for Peace has reached more than 1.3 million people with emergency food assistance. The program continues to help thousands of families like Fudia’s, while helping local producers, markets and countries recover from the ravages of Ebola.

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