Eritrea

"Help us stop a repeat of the 1984 famine," urges Eritrean partner

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Following a disastrous harvest, an estimated two million people in Eritrea - more than half the population - will need food aid in the next few months.
Abba Uqbagaber, Secretary General of the Eritrean Catholic Secretariat reports on the urgent need for action.

"Many of you will remember the dreadful scenes of the Ethiopian famine in 1984 that shocked the world. I cannot forget them either. I was there.

At that time Eritrea was part of Ethiopia - independence was granted in 1993. I was a student helping with the disaster relief effort co-ordinated by the church.

Nearly two decades on, I am in charge of the disaster relief programme of the Eritrean Catholic Secretariat and the country is facing the prospect of famine once more.

"People would arrive barely alive at the distribution points having walked up to 20 kilometres to find food.

I am afraid that Eritrea is on the verge of those depths of despair again."

In some remote areas people have already started to leave 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. The price of cattle has halved while the cost of food has doubled. Currently a cow only buys around three weeks' food. Soon they will be left with nothing.

In 2000, Eritreans faced food shortages, although not on the current scale. Before that Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a bitter border dispute, which still carries huge ramifications for our country. There are still around 200,000 young men conscripted to the front line who would otherwise be helping to provide for their families. Even now the war is over, landmines prevent many people from returning home.

Collecting water from a well at Halhal in the Anseba region of Eritrea, an area of erratic rainfall.

I am fearful of seeing the same scenes that I saw 19 years ago. Then I was helping to distribute food aid in a predominantly Muslim area in Northern Ethiopia. I saw many children dying of hunger, whose parents had nothing to give them except food they were given by aid agencies.

The Catholic Church in Eritrea has issued an emergency appeal to the global Catholic Community for =A31.6m, to which CAFOD has already donated =A3150,000. With this money we intend to provide supplementary food to 40,000 of the most vulnerable in Eritrea - young children, pregnant mothers and the elderly - through our 30 clinics across the country. To tackle the lack of drinking water, we are going to mend hand pumps and boreholes. Seeds will be distributed to 40,000 farming households in time for the next planting season.

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. 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.

My fellow Eritreans and ask that you do not forget about us in the United Kingdom. While we are very grateful for what is already being done to help us, we need your support to prevent famine striking this new but struggling country."

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