Humanitarian situation report on Eritrea 29 Jun 2000

from Grassroots
Published on 29 Jun 2000
"The Emergency situation is evidently so vast that we cannot waste time assessing the accuracy of figures. We must start by responding to the crisis immediately. There is no time to waste." - Head of UN Agencies in Eritrea, June 10
"The few trees of any size that dotted the countryside were ringed with 50-60 IDPs seeking out every tiny bit of shade offered. And there they sat. And slept. And waited. They were overwhelmingly made up of small children." - relief worker in Eritrea Humanitarian situation updated June 29, 2000

The rains have started in Eritrea. Farmers were unable to go back to plant their fields in time, and now famine looms for a population still reeling from the effects of war. A staggering 1.3 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.

The immediate needs of these people for emergency relief remain vast, yet the Eritrean government and the international community alike must prepare from now for the longer-term consequences of this war. Aid will be needed for a long time to come to help Eritrea in the process of rehabilitation and reconstruction.

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 war changes this picture.

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 return home, many of their towns have been destroyed. International relief workers report wanton destruction and devastation: 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 Relief and RefugeeCommission (ERREC)

Over 431,100 refugees are scattered among 23 camps and smaller sites set up by ERREC around the country. Almost twice that number are people "on the move," displaced people who have sought temporary shelter in hills and valleys in the affected area.

Anseba Region

Debaat Internally Displaced Persons Camp

Severe overcrowding at this site is forcing the Eritrean government to relocate most of its inhabitants into one of three new camps being established. Sanitation and health were two major factors in this decision. In mid-June this camp held well over 50,000 people, with an equal number yet to be registered.

Relief workers are scrambling to settle people in the camps and provide them with basic shelter and aid before the rains bring on dreaded outbreaks of malaria, diarrheal diseases, and acute respiratory infections - especially among vulnerable groups.

Western Eritrea and Sudan

About 80,000 people had fled into Sudan itself, but many have begun trickling back because of acute shortages of food and drinking water. The Kassala area of Sudan, where 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, tens of thousands of war-displaced have descended on their relatives in urban communities, creating a new category of war-affected. When the influx first began, the local population immediately shared their food and water. However, local resources were very quickly depleted and ERREC handed out sorghum flour, biscuits, and DMK (a nutritious mix of sorghum, milk, carrot, sugar). ERREC now estimates that the Urban Needy People amount to some 150,000 people and rising.

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 44,000 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.

Ethiopia has taken to expelling residents from regions it occupies. Recently, a reported 7,000 internal expellees arrived at Adi Keshi from the western regions. Still, some refugees have tried to brave mine-laden roads and fields and return to their homes. The sight facing people returning to Tessnei was beyond belief, with everything, from homes, schools, the clinic, banks, restaurants, hotels and shops, all damaged or destroyed. In nearby Ali Ghidir, at the center of Eritrea's agricultural heartland, international relief workers documented the wanton destruction: the machinery at the cotton factory was dynamited and the cotton gin and warehouses totally destroyed - all told, a loss of $ 40 million US dollars worth in agricultural equipment.

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, adding more than 492,000 people 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

The area around Assab remains tense as Ethiopan troops continue to occupy Eritrean lands - refusing to withdraw until UN peacekeepers are put into place. Earlier, some 6,000 people had registered in the Umkulu Reception Center in the Northern Red Sea region. Other refugees have for the moment settled with host communities. ERREC is setting up a camp at Ghinda to accommodate those displaced, but is waiting for water and sanitation issues to be resolved before registering refugees.

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.

A UN Flash Appeal, expected to be issued soon, will assess food requirements and other emergency needs. Various international organizations such as WFP, UNICEF, UNHCR and others, are working with ERREC and the Eritrean government to develop long-term recovery and rehabilitation plans. These will be critical ensuring the survival of Eritreans, whose livelihoods have been destroyed by this war.

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. These organizations will play a key role in the next difficult and demanding phases of Eritrea's reconstruction.

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.