DAKAR, Senegal — Food in countries hit by Ebola is getting more expensive and will become scarcer because many farmers won't be able to go to their fields, a U.N. food agency warned Tuesday.
The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 1,500 people and authorities have cordoned off entire towns in an effort to halt the virus' spread. Surrounding countries have closed land borders, many airlines have suspended flights to and from the affected countries and seaports are seeing less traffic, restricting food imports to the hardest-hit countries. Those countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — all rely on grain from abroad to feed their people, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
The price of cassava root, a staple in many West African diets, has gone up 150 percent in one market in Liberia's capital, Monrovia.
"Even prior to the Ebola outbreak, households in some of the affected areas were spending up to 80 percent of their incomes on food," said Vincent Martin, who is coordinating the agency's response to the crisis. "Now these latest price spikes are effectively putting food completely out of their reach."
An estimated 1.3 million people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will need help feeding themselves in coming months, said the U.N.
The situation looks likely to worsen because restrictions on movement are preventing laborers from getting to farms and the harvest of rice and corn is set to begin in a few weeks, the FAO said.
The World Health Organization is asking countries to lift border closures because they are preventing supplies from reaching people in desperate need. Ivory Coast decided Monday night to keep its borders with Guinea and Liberia closed but said it would open a humanitarian corridor to allow supplies in.
The world's worst-ever Ebola outbreak has killed more than 1,500 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
A separate Ebola outbreak has hit a remote part of Congo, in Central Africa, the traditional home of the disease. So far, 53 cases consistent with Ebola have been identified there of whom 31 have died, WHO said Tuesday.
Marc-Andre Boisvert in Abidjan, Ivory Coast contributed to this report.