First Remote Food Security Survey Finds Families in Ebola Heartland Struggling

WFP’s food security analysis unit is using new remote mobile phone technologies to track how households are coping in the three worst Ebola-affected countries of West Africa.

People living in the Kailahun and Kenema districts– where most of Sierra Leone’s Ebola cases have been reported - are finding it harder to feed their families than people in other parts of the country and are resorting to more desperate measure to cope, according to a new survey by the World Food Programme.  

The Sierra Leone survey is the first in a series of assessments being conducted with remote technologies in the three countries over the coming months.  

A total of 850 people across Sierra Leone were questioned about their coping strategies regarding hunger – for example did they borrow food or borrow money to buy food, were they cutting down on meals – but also more generally about their livelihoods –  were their income sources stable, were they working their farms, was the price of foods on local markets shifting.

More than 80 percent of people in the Eastern areas (Kailahun and Kenema) said they ate less expensive food, and 75 percent of them reported reducing the number of daily meals and serving smaller portions, indicating that the EVD outbreak has affected their food security.  In a comprehensive 2010 survey the Eastern districts were more food-secure than other areas, but the remote survey results show that they now have the worst food-related coping indicators in the country. 

‘We believe one of the reasons people in the East are struggling is that the rates for casual labourers are low and that seems to be driving down people’s food purchasing power,’ said Jean-Martin Bauer, a WFP food security analyst.  The results showed that even in the breadbasket areas, the main source of food was markets, rather than household’s own production.  

As Ebola has spread, many markets in rural areas have been closed. 
The use of remote technology to collect data comes as WFP reviews its operations to reduce the risks posed by the Ebola outbreak to its own staff and partners. 
A variety of technologies are being used in the three countries - from ‘robot calls’ to text message surveys where people respond by pressing the number that corresponds to their chosen option.  In Sierra Leone the survey was sent to cell phone subscribers randomly by location, they answered a series of ten text messages by pressing a number. 

“Another advantage of mobile data collection is that is it quicker than sending around teams to do face to face surveys around the country.  In a public health emergency, where the situation of communities is changing by the week, this helps WFP have more timely information to shape our response,” said Bauer. “ We will be doing this each month to track the situation as it evolves,” he added.