Eritrea: Deepening crisis because of delays in international aid

NAIROBI, 20 February (IRIN) - Aid agencies in Eritrea have warned of a deepening humanitarian crisis caused by delays in the international response to the devastating drought gripping the country.
"Further delays in the international humanitarian response to the drought situation in Eritrea could turn the current crisis into an appalling cycle of hunger and desperation," the Lutheran World Federation/World Service (LWS/WS) said.

In a statement, its deputy representative in Eritrea, Fikreyesus Kristos, pointed out that drought and malnutrition were not new to the country "but the looming crisis is even more destructive than the previous ones, and neither the people nor the government can cope on their own".

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Eritrea has warned that existing food reserves will run out within the next two months. Two-thirds of the country's population are at risk of severe food shortages, and 10,000 children are seriously malnourished.

The international response to appeals for desperately-needed help has been very poor, aid agencies point out.

Abba Uqbagaber, the secretary general of the Eritrean Catholic Secretariat, said that in remote areas of the country, people had already started leaving their homes in search of food.

"They have had to sell their livestock and those animals that have not been taken to market, are now falling sick through lack of food and water," he said in a report on the crisis. "The price of cattle has halved, while the cost of food has doubled."

"I am fearful of seeing the same scenes that I saw 19 years ago [during the famine of 1984]," he warned.

"Our neighbour Ethiopia is also facing a severe food crisis, and in Eritrea we are worried that we will get lost in Ethiopia's shadow," he said.

"Eritrea is a very new country and compared to Ethiopia, very small. But the percentage of our population facing hunger is much greater and the potential for catastrophe is huge."


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