Eritrea

Eritrea: Plea for help as children start to die

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ADDIS ABABA, 7 February (IRIN) - Two thirds of the population of Eritrea are facing food shortages and 10,000 children are severely malnourished, the UN said on Friday.
Musa Bungudu, head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Eritrea, said that children were already starting to die in the tiny Red Sea state.

But so far the international community has failed to respond to the crisis which has hit the country, and food reserves will run out within two months.

In an impassioned plea for help, he told the weekly video-linked press briefing organised by the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), that only a quarter of the food needed to avoid a disaster had been pledged to the country. Eritrea has a population of about 3.3 million.

"The situation of drought in Eritrea really is very bad," he said. "We are appealing to the donor community, were are appealing to the national and international media, to please try to allocate to us as much as possible."

"Children are already dying because they don't have anything to eat," he stated.

Bungudu said the next two months would be critical, and warned that even if the international community pledged food tomorrow it would still take three months to arrive. He also said that Eritrean government food reserves had dwindled.

Some 2.3 million people in the country have been hit by the drought and malnutrition rates have reached alarming rates of 28 percent - a third of those hit by food shortages.

"The country really is facing enormous challenges," he said. "Children are having to walk between three to five hours in order to get a few litres of water to drink."

Bungudu estimated that some US $153 million were needed to cover the food needs up until the end of the year.

He added that the cost of cereals had gone up by 100 percent in just four months while traditional breadbasket regions in Eritrea had failed to produce good harvests.

Bungudu also said that camps holding some 58,000 internally displaced people were also placing an additional strain on extremely limited resources. Eritrea is also facing a large influx of people returning to the country, especially from neighbouring Sudan.

[ENDS]

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