By Alexa Ahern
DES MOINES, Iowa — A year after the peak of Ebola’s lethal appearance in West Africa, hope is beginning to strike down fear as the people of Liberia and Sierra Leone show their resiliency.
For more than a year, hope was a distant luxury. Now, people are looking to rebuild their livelihoods, officials from both countries said at the World Food Prize Wednesday at the Marriott Downtown Hotel.
“The ‘forgotten-world’ people are not looking for handouts,” said H.E. Florence Chenoweth, former minister of agriculture in Liberia. “They are waiting for economic opportunity.”
For Chenoweth’s country, Ebola took all of that opportunity away.
In speaking about the forgotten world, Chenoweth was referring to Norman Borlaug’s 1970 Nobel speech in which he said:
“It is a sad fact that on this earth at this late date there are still two worlds, ‘the privileged world’ and ‘the forgotten world’ … The forgotten world is made up primarily of the developing nations, where most of the people, comprising more than 50 percent of the total world population, live in poverty, with hunger as a constant companion and fear of famine a continual menace.”
The effects of the disease reverberated across every aspect of the countries. The human toll is well-documented: whole villages were wiped out, and parents could not touch their children for fear of spreading the infection. But economic devastation also hit: construction ceased; education ceased; agriculture ceased.
Chenoweth, who had witnessed Ebola in other countries, also remembers the foreboding feeling of the early stages of the outbreak.
“When it hit our breadbasket, I knew we had lost,” she said. “Mentally, I prepared for that. I thought, ‘It’s over.’”
Video by Jasmine Dell
Monty Jones, senior advisor to the president of Sierra Leone, remembers when Ebola hit his country.
“At that time, I remember what was said to us: Ebola was going to take millions of lives,” he said. “It was a case of hopelessness.”
Before Ebola, Sierra Leone was one of the fastest growing countries in the world, with an economic growth rate of 11 percent, Jones said. But the country’s GDP dropped to 7.1 percent in 2014, according to the World Bank.
Ebola has subsided, leaving in its wake a mess of economic despair, including hunger.
Today, these countries now face the challenges of rebuilding after more than a year in which everything has just stopped. But there is hope.
Chenoweth and Jones both touted their countries’ resiliency.
“We now have hope, and we have moved to planning for reconstruction,” Jones said.
In Sierra Leone, there is a 70 percent chance of survival now, and no case has been found for the past five weeks.
More importantly, the countries are prepared if disaster were to strike again. Communication will play a vital role in protecting people from outbreaks of such large scale.
“We had no idea what this disease was,” Chenoweth said. “The messages were communicated when we had a message to communicate.”
Cell phones will help officials reach rural villages with warning messages. Rebuilding has included education on hygiene as well, especially in schools.
“Our children are back in schools, and our farmers are back in the fields,” Chenoweth said.
On Oct. 4, Liberia was declared Ebola free.
Jasmine Dell contributed to this post.