ASMARA, 25 February (IRIN) - International
donors are being urged to give a comprehensive, integrated response to
the drought in Eritrea to save the lives of thousands of vulnerable people.
Some 2.3 million people, out of a population of 3.4 million, are in need of food assistance and UN agencies have warned that without further food pledges - and early shipment of those pledges
- the current food aid pipeline will rupture in April.
"Conditions are set to worsen, perhaps dramatically," one UN official told IRIN.
Officials recalled that the Eritrean government raised the alarm as far back as July.
Water tables have now fallen up to 10 metres in many areas, with the grain-basket provinces of Gash Barka and Debub the worst-affected.
Dr Ghirmay Andemichael of the World Health Organisation (WHO) described the current situation as one of "the most critical times in the history of Eritrea". "This is the worst drought we have seen in decades," he said.
"Donors have not paid sufficient attention to the severity of the emergency faced by Eritrea which affects a much higher proportion of the population than in Ethiopia, although the latter appears to get most of the attention," added Basil Lucima of Oxfam.
"In Eritrea, people are still recovering from years of war, they are isolated with borders closed all around, and they now face the most severe drought in years," he said.
While lack of rain and drought is almost "normal" for Eritrea, the current situation is complicated by repeated droughts, the border conflict with Ethiopia, the closure of the borders, lack of manpower due to mobilisation and landmine problems, aid workers pointed out. Malnutrition levels now stand at over 15 percent.
In its latest report on Eritrea, the US government's Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS) said the country was facing a situation of heightened food insecurity. Poor households and middle income households were both severely affected.
"The coming months will see a rapid deterioration in the overall situation unless adequate food and non-food aid resources are mobilised," FEWS warned. "Livestock interventions are critical at this stage."
"Serious concerns remain for the population at risk as existing food aid pledges will take time to resource and transport to Eritrea," FEWS added.
"A potential conflict in Iraq will increase insurance costs and may disrupt shipping in the Red Sea. Even now, current food aid distributions are running at reduced rations of 60 percent of normal."
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