The World Food Programme is the food aid branch of the United Nations, and the world’s largest hunger-fighting agency. In order to assess food security situations across the globe, WFP gathers and analyzes food security data using a variety of technologies, including face-to-face data collection. Since 2013 WFP has been working with GeoPoll to send food security surveys through the mobile phone, allowing for remote data collection in regions where it is unsafe or difficult to send on-the-ground researchers. GeoPoll and the WFP initially conducted food security surveys in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo during a time of conflict, and ongoing surveys are conducted in several other countries throughout Africa.
In August of 2014, as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was spreading, the WFP once again partnered with GeoPoll to conduct food security surveys in Ebola-affected countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. Ebola is likely to have long-term effects on food security, and mobile surveys allow WFP to quickly collect vital data on food prices, wages, and more.
WFP and GeoPoll will send mobile surveys in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea over three months: September, October, and November 2014, to gather common indicators of food security, plus data on food prices and wages. GeoPoll and the WFP have worked together to adapt the reduced Coping Strategies Index (rCSI) for the mobile phone, and in previous studies have found no significant difference in rCSI results collected through mobile surveys vs. face-to-face surveys.
The first round of data released is from Sierra Leone, and indicates that food security in the Ebola-epicenters of Kailahun and Kenema has declined since the outbreak began. People living in these areas are using “severe” food coping strategies more frequently than those in the surrounding areas, meaning they are restricting meal size and buying less expensive foods than they normally would. The Sierra Leone surveys, conducted by text message, also found that casual wages in the east of Sierra Leone have dropped, likely contributing to the poor food security situation.
Food prices in the east of Sierra Leone are not showing major differences from prices in other regions of Sierra Leone, however WFP will continue to monitor price trends as surveys continue.