UNICEF Humanitarian Action: Eritrea Donor Alert 19 Mar 2003

Situation Report
Originally published
  • The 2.3 million Eritreans affected by drought (some 70% of the population) are showing signs of distress resulting from shortages of food and water;

  • Inadequate food aid pledges could lead to gaps in supplies and a grave nutrition situation for half of Eritrea's one million young children;

  • Some US$ 9.9 million urgently needed to respond to the emergency.

The effects of drought continue to deepen in Eritrea. All regions and two-thirds of the whole population are affected. Distress signs are mounting-increased malnutrition, selling-off of livestock, livestock deaths, drying-up of wells and traditional water sources, local grain price increases, and food scarcity on markets in remote areas. The conclusions of the Drought Assessment Mission from August last year have been realised: Eritrea is in the grips of one of its worst droughts recorded in recent history. A recent analysis by Famine Early Warning experts shows a rapid decline in purchasing power of the poor, resulting in extreme food shortages for many. Some additional 300,000 MT of food aid are urgently needed to meet needs during the current year. In response to the rapidly deteriorating situation, UNICEF is initiating life-saving interventions, particularly in Water/Sanitation and Health/Nutrition.

Health and nutrition programmes are urgently being strengthened in support of the efforts of the Government of Eritrea (GSE) in managing programmes for malnourished children. The latest Demographic Health Survey conducted in September 2002 already showed critical levels of malnutrition in three out of six provinces, according to WHO standards. NGO surveys in the central highland regions (Anseba) indicated global malnutrition levels among children were already as high as 28% at the beginning of this year. The International Red Cross (ICRC) recently reported a rapid increase in cases of severely malnourished children in the traditional breadbasket province of Debub. Preliminary analysis of crude mortality reported from health facilities shows a significant increase of deaths of children under five years of age between 2001 and 2002, which may be due to drought, food shortages, poverty and resulting sub-nutritional conditions of young children.

Access to drinking water continues to be a major problem for many people, both in rural villages and in small population centres. UNICEF and GSE assessed last November that 1.7 million people were in critical need of drinking water in some 70% of rural villages and that only 18% of Eritreans had access to safe drinking water. Livestock are also threatened by water shortages; a recent unverified report indicated as many as 9% of animals had died in one northern province. UNICEF, as the lead agency in the water sector in Eritrea, is building on its previous accomplishments and is rapidly addressing water/sanitation needs in drought and post conflict affected villages.

Given the very low gross and net enrolment rates in the country, it is essential to ensure that education is not disrupted during the current emergency and that schools continue to serve as feeding centres for the benefit of children. UNICEF has provided water at schools, allowing children to take water home instead of missing school to look for water at some distant locations. The supply of water at schools facilitates the feeding of children by WFP and other partners. School feeding enhances access/retention, attendance and performance. Health and hygiene education is also promoted in the process. It also helps Parent-Teacher Associations to mobilize community support around the learning process.

The current drought compounds post-conflict requirements in social sector support. Refugees, returnees, and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are still in need of assistance and are equally hit by crop failure and food shortages. While some 195,000 IDPs have returned to their villages of origin, some 60,000 IDPs and expellees remain in camps. UNICEF is providing basic supplies to destitute children in camps, but funds are urgently required to continue this assistance.

The capacity of people to cope with the drought conditions is further compounded by the presence of landmines along the southern border, which hinders the movement of people and livestock. Many of the challenges brought about by the current drought and the recent war are daunting and require both rapid and thoughtful interventions focusing not only on emergency relief efforts, but also on medium-term and sustainable solutions. Complementing relief planning under the Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP), the UN system has recently assessed a collective Recovery Plan for community-based social sector services in post conflict regions, for which a separate appeal will be forthcoming.


UNICEF's presence in independent Eritrea dates from 1992 with its main office located in Asmara. Programme emphasis is on primary health care and nutrition, water supply and sanitation, basic education, protection, and communication. In 2003, with the drought emergency influencing many programme parameters and goals, UNICEF is collaborating with the GSE and its partners. UNICEF strategies to protect the rights of the child are introduced below:

Water, Environmental Sanitation and Hygiene (WESH): Responding to current demands, overall funding requirements for UNICEF water projects have been doubled as the programme targets urgent supply requirements to some 70% of rural villages in the country. Requirements are prioritised and include protecting water quality, renovating existing systems in drought stricken areas, and creating new water sources where none exist.

Early Childhood Development (ECD): Focus is given to child and maternal health, nutrition and parenting education to a good start in life. The "care" aspects are emphasised to ensure child survival, health, emotional security, and ability to learn. Emergency nutrition support (surveillance, micro-nutrient and special feeding) is provided in partnership with the GSE in order to lay down quick positive impact projects that contribute to long-term programmes. Measles immunisation/vitamin A campaigns and the expansion of malaria prevention are also supported.

Basic Education: Activities focus on promoting quality education through teacher training, material development, support to infrastructure building, and specific ways to increase education for girls. In this drought emergency, the aim is to secure retention.

Child Protection: Child protection activities focus on children with special protection needs, including the many children that suffer greater vulnerability as a result of drought and resulting destitution. Integration of orphans and protection of separated children, conducting tracing and reunification, and attention to child-headed households and street children are included. UNICEF also provides basic relief items to displaced children in camps.

Communication for Child Rights: Focus is given to social mobilisation and advocacy, prevention of HIV/AIDS, and Mine Risk Education in order to increase awareness and change behaviours in areas of critical importance for achieving programme objectives.


With the new data available in November 2002, UNICEF began a number of accelerated and focussed activities in a number of sectors to support the welfare of Eritrean children during the current critical period. The Crop Report of October 2002, the Water Assessment of November 2002 and the Demographic Health Survey Results published in late November 2002 all pointed toward the deteriorating humanitarian situation. Hence, in the last three months (December 2002-February 2003), UNICEF has initiated the following activities:

Health and Nutrition:

UNICEF is distributing 308 MT of DMK for Therapeutic Feeding Centres (TFCs), training staff in Debub province and reinforcing the capacities of centres in four regions (Northern Red Sea, Southern Red Sea, Gash-Barka and Central Zone). Consequently, therapeutic feeding operates in ten hospitals and two health centres. UNICEF is supporting th opening of four more centres in Debub province. For supplementary feeding programmes, UNICEF is appealing for 2,000 MT (out of a total country-wide requirement of 19,000 MT) of blended food for malnourished under-five children. Currently, 100 MT of Norwegian-donated BP5 (high protein biscuits) are being distributed. UNICEF supported a nation-wide micro-nutrient (vitamin A and iron anaemia) and nutrition survey in December last year. An extended measles mortality reduction and vitamin A campaign is planned to cover 1.3 million children and youth this year, for which the Ministry of Health is setting up a task force to co-ordinate the planning and organisation of campaign activities.

Water and Sanitation:

There are, at the moment, 25 water projects in progress in the country, 18 in rural areas: seven in Gash-Barka, six in Debub and five in Northern Red Sea. A total of 55,000 drought-affected people will benefit at the completion of these projects. In addition, water trucking for three villages in the Northern and Southern Red Sea Regions is now underway. Latrines and water supply systems are being implemented in six schools of the Northern and Southern Red Sea Regions. UNICEF aims to have potable water systems within 40 km of all drought-affected villages within the next few months, which could then be piped into closer proximity of needy populations.


To support school retention during the drought, UNICEF has provided water containers (2,000 litres) to 102 schools (about one quarter of public schools in the country). School supplies are being distributed to 74,900 school children through the Ministry of Education. In addition, 950 desks have been supplied for 4,000 school children in three sub-zones. The construction of a school in Barentu has been initiated to benefit 800 school children including returnees from the Sudan, IDPs, those expelled and others. Given the immediate "risks" of retaining girls in school due to the current drought emergency and increased time constraints of female children to gather water and wood, UNICEF is accelerating its technical support to the Ministry of Education for prioritising this area and reducing "backsliding" of progress so far achieved.

Child Protection:

UNICEF is supporting a "Child/Youth Friendly Center" to ensure access to 1,837 junior and secondary school children (who have been separated from their families) through the provision of meals three times a day. This has increased girls' attendance from 4% to 30%. UNICEF has also urgently appealed for basic supplies for children in IDP camps. Related to peace and confidence-building measures, UNICEF is pursuing family reunification for 2,600 children separated due to previous conflicts and deportation. Rapid Vulnerability Assessment of child-headed households and separated child unaccompanied minors are currently being planned nation-wide.


UNICEF, with funds from the Netherlands, has equipped the Goluj Youth Centre in Gash-Barka in partnership with the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students. Goluj is an urban/rural Centre that is hosting tens of thousands of youth repatriating from the Sudan.

Mine Action:

UNICEF continues its efforts in establishing an effective and sustainable national Mine Risk Education (MRE) capacity in Eritrea, aiming at reducing the number of landmine/UXO related accidents among high-risk populations, specifically IDPs and returnees from Sudan.


Consolidated Appeal

As part of the 2003 UN Inter-Agency Consolidated Appeal (CAP) for Eritrea, UNICEF appealed for US$ 9,237,945. However, since the release of the CAP in November 2002, the assessments undertaken in the sectors of food, health and water have shown increased humanitarian needs on the ground. As a result, UNICEF has revised its sectoral requirements for health/nutrition and water/sanitation to meet the needs of affected children and women in Eritrea. To date, UNICEF has received only US$ 1.9 million to support its humanitarian interventions. This leaves a funding gap of over US$ 9.9 million.

The table below shows the contributions received for the revised Appeal, by sector:

% Funded
Health & Nutrition
Water & Sanitation
Child Protection
Mine Action

* Note: This chart reflects CAP revised figures that have not yet been launched by OCHA. It does not reflect recent indicated pledges that have not been received - namely pledges from the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of the United States, primarily for the water sector.

Relative to humanitarian response to children, UNICEF is grateful to the Norwegian Government and the Finnish National Committee for their contributions of US$ 1,821,294 and US$ 107,411 respectively in support of the Appeal. We are also grateful for a most recent notification of a substantial contribution from the Department of International Development (DFID) of the Government of the United Kingdom, and the Agency of International Development of the United States (USAID) for vital and timely support primarily in the water and sanitation sector.

Country Programme

In addition to the Consolidated Appeal, UNICEF has an ongoing Country Programme of co-operation covering the period of 2002 to 2006, with the Government of Eritrea. The activities carried out as part of the Programme complement the interventions implemented through the CAP framework. UNICEF is thankful to the Governments of Andorra, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Japan, Norway, Sweden, and the United States, and the National Committees of Finland, Italy and the United Kingdom, for their generous support to ongoing programmes that build the foundation for both short and long term achievements.

UNICEF will continue to build on its accomplishments, accelerating especially all life-saving interventions with a focus on efficient delivery of water supply systems and trucking, preventive health programmes, and emergency feeding to malnourished children. UNICEF in Eritrea can do a lot with few resources. The following gives an example of this:

It costs just:

  • 50 US cents to pay for the vaccine to immunise a child in Eritrea against measles.

  • Some US$ 5 a month to provide a general food ration to a child. However, if a child becomes severely malnourished some US$ 115 per month is needed to rehabilitate that child and prevent his/her death.

  • US$ 15-30 to ensure potable water for a child.

  • US$ 7 can provide all school stationery needs for a child for one year.

  • US$ 20 a year can meet the basic needs (shoes, clothes, soap, etc.) of an IDP child living in a camp.

The table below lists the priority projects:

Amount Required (US$)
1. Water and Sanitation Water systems to reach within 40 km of all drought victims (1.7 million people)
2. Health and Nutrition Purchase of 3000 MT of special food and programme support for malnourished children, (25% of children under five years). Vitamin A, extended measles and malaria coverage.
3. Education Support to access/retention (quality education, WES, etc.) to 30% of all school aged children in the country, especially girl children.

These priorities include a strategy for child rights as the basis of all undertakings and will progressively use the Community Capacity Development Framework. In so implementing these sectoral activities, UNICEF will actively identify and extend protection activities for the most vulnerable children in country, including orphans, street children and child-headed households. It will also continue to advocate for peace and confidence-building for greater stability in the country and in the region.

Details of the Eritrea Programme can be obtained from:

Christian Balslev-Olesen
UNICEF Eritrea
Tel: 291-1-151344
Fax: 291-1-151350

Olivier Degreef
Tel: + 41 22 909 5546
Fax: + 41 22 909 5902

Dan Rohrmann
New York
Tel: + 1 212 326 7009
Fax: + 1 212 326 7165