- Associated Press - Monday, October 20, 2014

BEIJING (AP) - China has donated $6 million to help stave off food shortages in the three African countries worst affected by the Ebola virus, the World Food Program announced Monday, part of Beijing’s growing assistance to a continent where its companies have become major investors.

WFP China representative Brett Rierson said the money is being spent on one month of emergency food rations of mainly rice, lentils and yellow peas for 300,000 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The Ebola outbreak in those countries has killed more than 4,500 people out of the 9,000 infected and led to widespread transport disruptions, higher food prices and the abandonment of crops and livestock by some farmers fleeing to areas considered safe.

The WFP has now raised $59 million of a $179 million appeal for emergency Ebola food aid, with the U.S. contributing $8.8 million and Japan $6 million.

Altogether, donors have given nearly $400 million to U.N. agencies and aid groups, still far from the $988 million requested.

China has already dispatched several planeloads of medical material and aid teams to the three worst affected countries, and at least one Chinese pharmaceutical firm is among those working on a vaccine.

With the world’s second-largest economy and a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, China is beginning to make larger contributions to international aid efforts.

China now spends about $5 billion annually in foreign aid, about 55 percent of which is offered in the form of low-interest loans, according to a government report issued in July. Just over half of the money goes to African countries, helping China build market share in a continent where its companies have found customers for infrastructure, telecommunications and manufactured goods.

China is Africa’s largest trading partner, with about $200 billion in commerce between them, twice the level of Africa’s trade with the United States.

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