Press briefing on humanitarian assistance for Eritrea

Press Briefing
The current shortfall in funding for United Nations humanitarian aid to Eritrea could have catastrophic results, particularly if the war-torn nation's current drought worsens, Simon Nbongo, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Eritrea, told correspondents this afternoon at a Headquarters press briefing.

Donors' current response rates to the United Nations Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for Eritrea had not been encouraging and must be increased, Mr. Nbongo said. Donors had pledged to meet 25 per cent of required food aid and a mere three per cent of non-food assistance. This was very low compared with the 50 per cent average pledge rates for aid to neighbouring Ethiopia and the 85 per cent rates for South Africa.

"My major concern is that delayed responses might turn out to be more costly if the situation deteriorates further by July 2003", he said.

Launched last November, the Appeal called for $163 million in food, water and health aid for 2.3 million Eritreans -- roughly 70 per cent of the population -- devastated by ongoing drought and the post-conflict impact of Eritrea's late 1990s border war with Ethiopia. So far, the Appeal had received two per cent of the required amount, he said.

Malnutrition rates now ranged between 15 per cent and 28 per cent, and had reached 40 per cent in some regions, he said. Recently, underground water tables had declined by 10 to 13 meters on average, draining the water supply systems of most affected areas. Grain prices had doubled. Prices of livestock, a crucial source of income for Eritreans in dire economic circumstances, had dropped 30 per cent. Moreover, 9 per cent of livestock in at least two or three of the nation's six provinces had died.

Also speaking, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila (Botswana), Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Ethiopia/Eritrea, briefed correspondents on the role of the United Nations Boundary Commission in demarcating the Ethiopian-Eritrean border. The United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) was charged with demining access roads and pillar sites and providing logistical and administrative support to the Commission. Work would begin on the ground following the production of border maps, Mr. Legwaila said.

Responding to a correspondent's question regarding diplomatic immunity for UNMEE national staff, Mr. Legwaila said Eritreans and Ethiopians were entitled to those rights and privileges regardless of whether that had met national services obligations.

Mr. Nbongo and Mr. Legwaila were in New York to seek additional humanitarian aid for Eritrea from key donors.

Earlier in the day, the Security Council met in consultations to discuss the Secretary-General's 10 March progress report on implementation of the 2000 Algiers Peace Agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea.