Eritrea + 8 more

Iraq crisis could harm relief efforts in Africa

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A major humanitarian emergency in Iraq could plunge millions of people facing food shortages in Africa further into crisis if world attention and aid efforts are redirected to the Gulf, says Christian relief and development agency Tearfund.
War in Iraq could further compound food crises in countries like Eritrea and Ethiopia if the vital funding and political will to respond are lost, believes Tearfund. More than 14 million people in Eritrea and Ethiopia are facing severe food shortages in the coming months due to failed rains, weak infrastructure and widespread poverty, as well as the knock-on effects of previous droughts and famines.

"The next few months are critical for Eritrea and Ethiopia," says Ian Wallace Tearfund's International Operations Director. "If a major conflict occurs in Iraq we hope that the aid sent in will be additional aid and not resources taken away from relief operations in African countries."

Mr Wallace continues: "There are no easy answers when large-scale disasters coincide. But because of the political profile of Iraq and the widespread media attention it receives, there is a real danger that other crises around the world will be forgotten."

The international community has pledged little more than half the international food aid needed by Ethiopia, leaving 590,000 metric tonnes of food aid still required in the coming months. For Eritrea the figure is only 23% of the amount needed to avert a catastrophe for thousands of people who are already on the brink of survival.

David Bainbridge of Tearfund's Disaster Response Team recently returned from some of the worst hit regions of Eritrea. An estimated 1.4 million people are affected by the worst drought for 20 years.

"The country is facing unprecedented food shortages and there is no question that international aid is desperately needed in the next few months.=A0 In the Northern Red Sea region I met families whose flocks of goats had been decimated, either through death or because owners had to sell them to survive. Many of these families are down to one meal a day.

"A farmer called Sali Osman Ali showed me his field of withered millet. He says the moment the next rains come he will be planting again. But we know that means he won't be growing any crops until 2004. He and countless others need help, but international donors have so far only pledged enough food aid for a few months, and even this is insufficient to meet all the immediate needs.=A0 Tearfund partners working in the region told me they are worried that international aid would dry up in the wake of conflict in the Gulf"

Tearfund partners in southern Africa, too, are expressing concern that their region will be forgotten in the wake of a conflict in the Gulf. International aid and generous responses to public appeals in the UK and elsewhere have helped to avert a widespread humanitarian catastrophe across seven countries in southern Africa. But much work still to be done to keep the threat of famine at bay for 14 million people dependent on food aid.

Miriam Chang, Nutritionist for Tearfund partner Emmanuel International in Malawi says, "We hope that people don't forget Malawi and the rest of Southern Africa. The problems here have not happened overnight and they cannot be fixed overnight, so it will take a lot of dedication and commitment. We hope and pray that the donor community will continue to listen to what is happening here and continue to respond."

Ian Wallace, Tearfund's International Operations Director, says that as well as responding to short-term emergencies, agencies' priorities in southern Africa and in the Horn of Africa included tackling the long-term chronic poverty of many poor farming and pastoralist families who are almost permanently vulnerable to sudden disaster because they are unable to work their way out of poverty.

Notes to Editors

1. Spokesperson available: Ian Wallace and David Bainbridge are available for interviews. Please contact Tearfund Press Office as below.

2. Attention Radio Stations: Tearfund ISDN sound studio G722 or APTX on 020 8614 5793.

3. Tearfund is one of the UK's leading relief and development agencies, working in partnership with Christian agencies and churches around the world to tackle the causes and effects of poverty. For further information on Tearfund's work, visit www.tearfund.org <http://www.tearfund.org>

For further information, please contact:

Keith Ewing, Media Manager on 020 89943 7779 or 07710 573749 (mobile) OR
Abby King, Media Officer on 020 8943 7901 or 07767 473516 (mobile)