Humanitarian situation report on Eritrea 14 Jun 2000

from Grassroots
Published on 14 Jun 2000
A staggering 1.5 million Eritreans - almost half of the total population of the country - have been displaced from their homes by Ethiopia's invasion. Relief workers in Eritrea have estimated that about 25 percent of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) are women, and 65-70 percent children. Figures of those displaced and fleeing their homes are changing daily as more refugees are being found in their hide-outs in nearby hills and valleys.
Apart the immediate needs of these people for emergency relief, the Eritrean government and the international community alike must prepare from now for the longer-term consequences of this war.

Food security

Three years of drought in the region were already affecting Eritrea's ability to feed itself. Even before the war, some 600,000 Eritreans were at risk of famine due to drought. But a relatively good harvest last year ensured that Eritrea could fend off famine for another season.

The most fertile agricultural lands, located mainly in western and central Eritrea, are precisely those targeted and devastated by advancing Ethiopian forces. Together, these areas had contributed over 70% of the country's grain production.

Even if the displaced can return home, many of their towns have been destroyed. Farmers' lands have been laid waste, and the roads leading to their homes and fields have been mined. There is no one home to sow the seeds that should have been planted by now, before the coming rains. This war has put the very survival of all Eritreans, and the viability of Eritrea itself, at stake.

"Available food from all sources is barely enough to meet the country's food requirements for one month."

- The Eritrean Relief and Refugee Commission (ERREC)

An Assessment of needs from the Eritrean Refugee and Relief Commission (ERREC)

Debaat Internally Displaced Persons Camp

As of June 12, 2000, this camp held some 50,000 people, with about 50,000 more yet to be registered. ERREC immediately distributed tents to some 13,350 families, but over half of this population remained without shelter. Adequate levels of food were also distributed, and Save the Children set up three feeding centers for children.

A health clinic was established in the camp. Relief workers fear high morbidity rates from malaria (especially once the rainy season starts), diarrheal diseases, and acute respiratory infections, especially among vulnerable groups.

Oxfam was to assist ERREC in digging latrines and open water sources were treated with chlorine and closed off. Water tankers brought in water twice a day and three 10,000-liter water bladders were set up around the camp, in addition to one central water storage tank.

Displaced People in Western Eritrea and Sudan

Another 100,000 people remain scattered along the Sudanese border, of whom 70,000 people fled into Sudan itself. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had earlier estimated that another 50,000 refugees would seek shelter in Sudan.

Eritrean refugees in Kassala in Sudan face acute shortage of food and drinking water. The area where the refugees are kept is a dusty desert with temperatures soaring to 45 degrees centigrade (113 Fahrenheit) during the day. Sudan does not have the capacity to meet the needs of these newcomers.

According to ERREC and other sources, an additional 330,000 Eritrean displaced may still be clustered in isolated spots like Hagaz, Fana, and Mensura. When the influx first began, the local population immmediately shared their food and water. However, local resources were very quickly depleted and ERREC has handed out sorghum flour, biscuits, and DMK (a nutritious mix of sorghum, milk, carrot, sugar).

In Obelet, people wove together branches and laced them with women's scarves to create rudimentary shelter from the sun. Near Mensura, some people have scavenged cardboard on which to sleep, resting in a thick stand of trees straddling an as yet dry riverbed.

Many IDPs are refugees for the second time. For example, the 20,000 people of the Adi Kashi IDP camp near Barentu was displaced again during this war (Grassroots International visited this camp in December 1999).

Following Ethiopia's withdrawal from the Barentu area, the camp was reconstituted and now holds an estimated 40,000 IDPs. Several of the other sites where people have congregated have good water sources. However, located at a distance from established camps, these sites have little else.

Debub and the central regions of Eritrea

The Debub region is the most populated in Eritrea: 66% of its 739,300 inhabitants have been made into refugees.

Ethiopia's invasion of the central regions around Zalambessa, Senafe, Adi Keih, and Tsorona late in the war, coupled with attacks on the Bure and Bada areas closer to the port of Assab (to the east), exacerbated the humanitarian situation.

Tens of thousands of civilians were evacuated or fled from towns such as Adi Quala (91,000), Areza (71,200), Mai-Mine (59,300), and other small villages. With the evacuation of Senafe (88,700), Tsorona (42,200), Zalembassa and other major centers, altogether over 492,000 people were added to the ranks of the war displaced.

The evacuees said they fled villages under heavy artillery and aerial bombardment, and said they had traveled seven days by foot and truck before reaching safety. Most are women and children, who carry few possessions.

Northern and Southern Red Sea Regions

Continued warfare in the areas around Assab, particularly in the Southern Red Sea Region, makes it difficult to provide accurate figures of the war-displaced. Already some 6,000 people have been registered in the Umkulu Reception Center in the Northern Red Sea region. Other refugees have for the moment settled with host communities. Should Ethiopia indeed conquer Assab, which some analysts predict is Ethiopia's ultimate goal in this war, the humanitarian crisis will be exacerbated.

Emergency Supplies Needed for War Displaced

Grassroots International has assumed as its priority raising funds urgently needed to support ERREC's humanitarian effort. The budget needed to cover basic needs over the next six months (June-December) is $182,947,463 U.S. dollars. ERREC cautions that this figure is based on the expectation that the war will end and at least some of the refugees can return home and resume their lives.

Food needs alone for this period are estimated to cost over $78 million U.S. dollars - a figure that will surely rise once the rains start falling on uncultivated fields.

The UNDP will order relief supplies and charter necessary cargo flights to Asmara. ERREC is responsible for coordination and delivery, based on areas of greatest need at the time the supplies reach Eritrea.

Medicines and Medical Supplies needed

Three hospitals in Senafe, Barentu and Tessenei, in addition to 32 health centers and health stations in other areas have been looted and destroyed by Ethiopian troops. Medical supplies and equipment - estimated at $15 million U.S. dollars - are critically needed.

Grassroots International has received a list of medicines and medical equipment needed in Eritrea and is working with relief organizations in the US to procure supplies and arrange shipment.

The Role of Grassroots' Partner Organizations

Grassroots International has assumed as its second priority raising funds urgently needed by NUEYS, NUEW and NCEW to support and complement the work of ERREC in the humanitarian effort.

NUEYS Committee for Displaced Eritreans

The National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students is involving young people in caring for displaced communities. The youth will assist humanitarian NGOs working in the camps in delivering goods, extending pipe-lines for water, and training in First Aid, nutrition, and sanitation. Once people are allowed to go home, these youth will play a critical role in helping people's reintegration into their communities.

"It is a committee with limited resources but abundant positive energy that will bring great change," said one young man.

NUEW's Appeal to the International Community

The National Union of Eritrean Women issued an appeal to the international community on June 1. It warned of the disastrous effects of war on the health and well-being of women and children. The Appeal states, "On behalf of the displaced communities of women and children in Eritrea, the National Union of Eritrean Women calls upon the international community to:

1. Take all necessary proactive measures to stop Ethiopia's blatant invasion of Eritrea, a sovereign nation and member of the United Nations.

2. Respond immediately to the humanitarian crisis in Eritrea, where hundreds of thousands of women and children are suffering immensely due to the flagrant invasion of their homeland."

NUEW is developing its plans to work alongside ERREC to serve displaced women in this war.

The National Confederation of Eritrean Workers (NCEW) continues to support displaced workers with training opportunities.