The following is a near-verbatim transcript of the press briefing chaired in the Eritrean capital, Asmara by UNMEE Spokeswoman, Chief of UNMEE Public Information, Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte and UN Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator (OCHA) Musa Bungudu, via a videoconference linking Addis Ababa and Asmara.
On 1st February in Addis Ababa, the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) Legwaila Joseph Legwaila called upon the Chairman of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Mr. Jan Erikssen, who also served as former President of Norwegian Church Aid (NCA). The NCA has played an important role in facilitating dialogue between religious leaders from Ethiopia and Eritrea aimed at promoting reconciliation between the people of the two countries.
On 3rd February in Addis Ababa, the SRSG, accompanied by the DSRSG/Addis Ababa, Mr. Cheikh Tidiane-Gaye attended the inaugural ceremony of the new Conference Center of the African Union (AU). Following this, the UNMEE Delegation, led by the SRSG, attended the official opening of the First Extraordinary Summit of the African Union.
On 4th February in Addis Ababa, the SRSG and the DSRSG/Addis Ababa received a visiting delegation of German Parliamentarians and the Head of the German Foreign Office/Africa Division. The SRSG briefed the German visitors about UNMEE activities and the current status of the peace process. In this context it should be noted that Germany has taken over from Norway as Coordinator for UNMEE issues in the Security Council. The same day in the afternoon, the SRSG met with the Ambassador of the Netherlands to Ethiopia, Rob Vermaas, and exchanged views with him on the peace process. It should also be noted that The Netherlands remains the Chair of the Friends of UNMEE.
The overall situation in the Mission's area of responsibility remains calm.
On Monday, 3rd February, the Shilalo Company Headquarters received a report from a local resident that there was a suspicious metal object located about 100 metres from the Jordanian Battalion (JORBAT) Company Headquarters. Consequently, the Company Commander accompanied the Bangladesh Engineering De-mining Platoon Leader to the site. It was established that the object was an anti-personnel mine, and it was subsequently disposed of.
Force Commander Major General Robert Gordon visited Axum and Mekele on 3rd and 5th February respectively. He met the 107 Corps Commander, Brigadier General Asheber Tekele, who accompanied him on a tour of the area. The Force Commander visited the 107 Corps Headquarters at Mekele where they discussed issues of mutual military interests concerning the Temporary Security Zone. In Mekele the FC also met with Dr. Solomon Inquai, Speaker of the Tigray Regional Parliament.
The Force continues to provide humanitarian assistance in all sectors to civilians, including Internally Displaced Persons.
At 11.30 hrs on 1st February 2003, on grazing lands adjacent to the village of Andalia, six kilometres North West of Shilalo in Gash Barka Zoba, two brothers aged 13 and 11, accidentally detonated a unexploded ordnance (UXO) believed to be a rocket propelled grenade. The 13 year old, who picked up the grenade, was killed instantly by fatal injuries to his chest and head. The 11-year-old was severely injured by fragments to his abdomen, chest and head. His father, who was nearby at the time of the incident, carried his son for six kilometers to the United Nations Military Observer (UNMO) Team site in Shilalo town. The UNMOs immediately requested UNMEE helicopter medical evacuation to Asmara, which was provided expeditiously, thereby saving the boy's life. The injured boy was flown to Asmara where he received emergency surgical treatment from the UNMEE Jordanian Level II hospital staff who removed several grenade fragments from his body and head. He was then transferred to a local Asmara hospital where he is in a stable condition.
On Monday 3 February UNMEE Mine Action Coordination Centre (MACC) deployed it's Emergency Mine Risk Education (MRE) team to Andalia and conducted Mine Risk Education training for all available adults and children in two separate sessions. The MRE team will continue to operate in the general area of Shilalo for the next few days to re-emphasise the MRE message to the local population.
Both this incident and the find and subsequent destruction of a mine outside the Shilalo Company Headquarters mentioned under the Military report highlight the critical need for the re-introduction of a continuous Mine Risk Education programme for the mine and UXO affected populations in the region.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: I think last week you were saying the report on the person that was shot near the border in December was with the MCC. Is there any time we are going to get to see this report?
Spokeswoman: That I will have to check with the Force Commander. I think we said that it was discussed in the MCC by the Force Commander. I will have to check with the Force Commander whether the result will be made public.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: There is also a question of whether it is going to be public at all at this stage?
Spokeswoman: First of all it involves an incident where both Parties were invited to nominate a Military representative to assist with the investigation and we were, first of all, trying to establish the facts before even considering going public with anything. You have representatives of the local administrations and the militaries on both sides who are involved in this investigation and that's why it was discussed at the MCC as a military issue. I will speak with the Force Commander and I will let you know what he says on this particular issue, and whether or not he will make the findings of this public.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Is the report on the incident in Adigrat involving a helicopter and the Ethiopian troops surrounding that area, is that going to be public? Or do you know when it is going to come out?
Spokeswoman: That again was discussed within the MCC and I thought that last week the Force Commander gave you all the details that he was going to give on that, but I will get back to him because both of the things that you have asked about have been discussed in the MCC.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: By discussing it in the MCC, does that mean it shouldn't be made public or some thing? I don't see what the relevance is.
Spokeswoman: It means that it is a military matter. I will have to discuss with the Force Commander what will be made public.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: The issue of Rosa Abraham was also discussed in the MCC, so how come the details of that were made public? Why the difference ...
Spokeswoman: Because that's not strictly a military matter and on that we gave you the information and we published a report last week and we said to you that a Board of Inquiry has been set up to look into that and the Board of Inquiry has in fact been meeting.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: This might be going over old ground, because I know when the shooting occurred of the person in December that has been investigated while I was away. So I hope I am not repeating what has already previously been said. But could you explain why it is a military issue involving both Eritrea and Ethiopia?
Spokeswoman: Because of the manner in which it happened, we were not involved in it, we actually heard shots and responded.
Military PIO: We heard shots and then somebody reported to the military post team site. At which point we became involved when a military patrol was deployed and by the time we got there, no one was there except for the dead body. The investigation is going on and as Gail said it was discussed during the MCC meeting. We will discuss with the Force Commander whether it can be made public and precisely what can be made public.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: If I am correct, it is an Ethiopian person who was shot dead. Is that right?
Q [from Addis Ababa]: So, why is the Eritrean military involved?
Spokeswoman: We do not know precisely all the details surrounding this and I think we said from the beginning and that was why there was an investigation called. What the UNMEE Force knew is that shots were fired and that the body was found. Those were the facts from UNMEE. One side accused the other of the shooting and therefore this is why both sides have to be involved.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Well the Ethiopians accused the Eritreans of the shooting?
Spokeswoman: I am just going to put it the way I have, I don't want to go into who said what. One side accused the other of the shooting incident and that's why there has been an investigation.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Well without wanting to make a point out of it surely the Eritreans are not going to accuse the Ethiopians of shooting an Ethiopian are they, or are they?
Spokeswoman: I think you're bright enough to deduce it. There are a lot of reports on it that you can look back at those.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: You know, Gail, we don't want to make mistakes in our stories. So, that is why I am asking.
Spokeswoman: There is no need for me to confirm anything further because what's available is out there on public record.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Sorry, it is again on this report. I am not clear, are you saying the report, the investigation is over? Or it's still going on?
Spokeswoman: That I have to check with the military. The last thing that I was told was that there was a report that had come to the Force Commander, that he was looking at it.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: So you know, it is just quite confusing! Are you saying UNMEE now believes it has the full facts or not?
Spokeswoman: That I would have to establish with the Force Commander. I just know that he has a report that is the only fact that I have, that he has a preliminary report, as I gather on this investigation
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Could you explain something about the modalities or the mechanics of the investigation? Is it one man with a telephone or is it a whole group of people? I mean why is it, this happened at the beginning of December now, what is it February the 7th, I mean eight weeks! Why is it taking eight weeks?
Spokeswoman: We told you some weeks ago that it wasn't only UNMEE involved in the investigation. We also had to get in touch with the people on both sides and sometimes they were not available. That was one of the reasons for the delay. That was part of the problem. They had to find witnesses; they had to get both sides involved, so that's been the reason for the delay.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: So, there are witnesses?
Spokeswoman: There must have been because they were looking for witnesses.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Hello, Gail, sorry, just on the same point as well. Damian was mentioning about the modalities. What actually are the modalities for example, what is actually taking place in the investigation, what is being done, who is doing what, who is involved, has an autopsy taken place on the body, I mean what is actually going on as part of this investigation?
Spokeswoman: I do not have the details on the investigation. I will have to check that for you. As far as I know the investigation is confidential. I will have to discuss it with the Force Commander.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: When you do check is it possible that you could get back to us today?
Following consultations with the Force Commander we would like clarify the following points concerning the death of the Ethiopian shepherd on the 18 December 2003.
1. The victim was killed in the TSZ.
2. An investigation team consisting of professional investigators from the Caribinneri was formed after consultations with both Parties.
3. Both Parties were invited to nominate a representative to assist with the investigation, an offer they both accepted.
4. The issue was discussed at the MCC because it was a Military investigation team looking into an incident which occurred in the TSZ and the MCC is the only forum where the two Partied meet.
5. There is no indication or evidence to suggest that the Military of either Party were in any way involved in this killing.
6. The Force Commander delivered an initial report to both Parties at the MCC on the progress of the investigation and invited the Parties to submit any further evidence that had not already been considered.
7. The Force Commander intends to write to both Commissioners to confirm the findings in due course. At this stage he does not intend to make these findings public.
On the question of the helicopter incident in Adigrat. The Force Commander does not intend to issue any further statements on this incident. Suffice to say that he has discussed it with both Parties as was conveyed to the Press in last week's press Briefing.
Spokeswoman: I will now introduce Musa Bungudu, who is the Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator and Head of OCHA in Asmara. Musa just returned from Geneva with a delegation including government officials here, to discuss the situation of drought. There has been a lot on the drought in Ethiopia, but it seems that the international community is not hearing as much on the drought from Eritrea and this is one of the things that he went to do in Geneva and he would just like to share it with you some of what it was said in Geneva.
Musa Bungudu: Thank you Gail. Good morning Addis Ababa and to our colleagues here in Asmara. As she has mentioned my name is Musa Bungudu, I am the Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator and Head of OCHA Asmara and we travelled to Geneva last week and we had the opportunity to meet with the donors. The delegation from Asmara included Minister Askalu Menkorios, who is the Chairperson of the Drought Committee from Eritrea as well as the Minister of Labour and Human Welfare. We also had Teklemichael Woldegiorgis, the Deputy Commissioner of ERREC (Eritrean Relief and Refugee Commission), as well as Christian B. Olesen, the acting Resident Humanitarian Coordinator, Mamadou Mbaye, the Deputy Country Director of the World Food Programme and myself. The meeting was organized by OCHA in Geneva for the Horn of Africa. We had Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Ethiopia was represented by the Resident Humanitarian Coordinator, Samuel Nyambi and Somalia was represented by Maxwell Gaylard, who is also the Resident Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia. The objective of the meeting was mainly to increase the awareness of the donors to the drought situation and other humanitarian issues and also to raise funds to address the drought situation. Both countries made presentations and our voices were heard, but I would like to concentrate more on Eritrea. The situation of drought in Eritrea is really very bad, 2/3 of the population or 70% of the population is currently facing drought and the global malnutrition in many places is between 15 to 28%. The cost of grains has gone up by 100% in the last 4 months. The cost of livestock has gone 30% lower than normal and we have seen that 1/3 of livestock in the country are also directly effected by the drought. As you know Eritrea is heavily dependent on livestock, so when livestock is affected then their basic survival is also affected. The drought situation in the country is affecting primarily two zobas, which are the breadbasket of the country. These are the Zobas of Debub and Gash Barka. Other zobas like northern and southern Red Sea are traditionally areas that at one point or another they suffer from drought, but when these two zobas, Gash Barka and Debub are hit this is the mother of all the drought that this nation is facing. We tried as much as possible to draw the attention of the donors and particularly also the media, so that the media can carry the reports on the plight of children and women in the country, that we need the support not only within the country here in Eritrea, but even within the International Community. As I said before 2.3 million people are already affected. If you look at the population of Eritrea it is just 3.3. This is really a very serious problem. We are now in February. What will happen in the next two or three months, and what happens if the rains of April and May fail? And what happens if the rains of June/July fail? So the country is really facing enormous challenges. We already have in camps more than 58,000 IDPs who are primarily dependent on food assistance because they are living in camps. We also have quite a number of returnees who are either living in camps or they have just returned from Sudan and they need one type of support or the other. Of those who have returned, they have not yet established their lives. They require assistance in terms of agricultural support, in terms of shelter, in terms of food, in terms of water, so all of these dynamics are combining at the same time with this drought. The complication of the drought is the lack of drinking water, not only for the humans, but also for the livestock. In many places the wells have dried up 100%, in some locations the water table has gone down by 10 meters. In some places where the dams have almost dried up or are going to dry up, the walking distance for an average person and in particular in affected areas is 3 to 5 hours in order to get a few litres of water on their donkeys. For the animals it is the same. So sooner or later we will see a major migration from one part of the country to another to look for a greener or better pasture. This is how the current situation is. We are very grateful for the support we have received from various donors. We cannot complain, but the assistance that we are having at the moment regarding the food, we are at around 25% of the requirement. The non-food requirements are roughly 2.5%, so if you look at it we are far from the margin. If we have 25% of the requirement for food and we are at 2.5% for non- food, you can see the dangers that we are facing.
When food with WFP finishes by end of March/April, considering the time it takes to procure and transport the food, water and health related supplies, this could take a lot of time, so we are appealing to the donor community, we are appealing to the national and international media to please try to advocate for us as much as possible to get more funds early enough. So that we do not disappear completely off the television screens or that our voices are not heard on the radio. If you have any questions, thank you.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: So you were saying 25 percent of the food requirement, is that the emergency food requirement for the whole year, or are we talking about 25 percent in February that wasn't clear?
Musa Bungudu: This is what we are requiring for the year; 25% has been received for the year including what was carried over from last year and with the new contribution that has been received, roughly we are at around 25%.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: So when do you think, I'm just comparing it to figures given here. You have enough for February; you have enough for March, when would this stock run out do you think?
Musa Bungudu: April, and this is for the food and as I said for the water, health and nutrition or agriculture, even if there is rain today we need basic seeds and tools in order for the farmers to be able to farm. Unfortunately, as I am speaking to you, I have not heard of any contribution with regard to agricultural support.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Do you mean from foreign donors?
Musa Bungudu: Well, donors from anywhere. Support is coming to UN Agencies directly from the donors. Assistance is coming to the Government through bilateral support, but when you add all of these together --and I am referring to support which is coming directly to the United Nations Agencies. As we know WFP is asking for a total of 260,000 metric tons. So far from the last mission that we had they have roughly 60,000 metric tons which leaves around 200,000 metric tons. But when we put it in percentage terms, in simple language that we can all work with, we are talking of about 25% and for the non-food support, principally water and sanitation, health and nutrition, as I said before it's a very serious problem and water born diseases are likely now to be a factor because people are now drinking whatever water they can find. The health related problems and global malnutrition as I said is 15 to 28% and part of this information is even 2 months old. So when we move into the year 2003 the situation becomes more complicated. So we are really appealing to friends of Eritrea and other donors...The Government has established a Drought Committee. Eritreans themselves are contributing money and I have just been told that Eritrean nationals working with the UN are also contributing their one-month's salary, so I think that the support is coming from many angles, but we are still far from where we want to reach.
Q [from Asmara]: If I understand you Eritrea has now obtained 25% of what has been required for the year 2003 and what was the global amount of it?
Musa Bungudu: The amount I have mentioned to you is what WFP has received. The total requirement of the country is over 400,000 metric tons and of that amount we do know that 100,000 metric tons have been secured, so we are short of 300,000 metric tons, overall. As you know the EU is contributing with food bilaterally to the Government, so all together the requirement is over 400,000 metric tons, so far 100,000 has been secured and we are short of 300,000 metric tons.
Q [from Asmara]: And what does it represent in terms of money, dollars.
Musa Bungudu: In terms of money we are talking about a total of 163 million dollars, roughly.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Before I ask the question, can I just clear up the 163 Million dollars, is that the total food requirement, the 400,000 metric tons or is that what we're short of or is that what you've had?
Musa Bungudu: When we issued the CAP (Consolidate Appeal Process) at the end of last year, including food we came up to 163,000 million dollars. Part of it was food and part of it was non-food, but as of now we are trying to isolate the food requirement by a third because when the CAP was issued the expected food production in the country fell shorter than we expected. For example we were expecting 75,000 metric tons to be produced from the farm and unfortunately only 54,000 metric tons were produced, so this figure increased a little bit, but from the summary which I can give you for food alone without any other thing we are requiring 400, 000 metric tons. Out of that, 400,000 metric tons WFP is addressing 260,000 metric tons for this year 2003. The total amount of money both for WFP and others comes to 153 million dollars. That is the total food requirement. For World Food Programme alone, the total amount of money is 100 million dollars. Out of the 100 million dollars they have secured 22 million dollars and they are now looking for 78 million dollars.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Firstly with two thirds of the population in need of food aid, doesn't that constitute a famine?
Musa Bungudu: At this point I wouldn't want to call it a famine because when you say famine it has a lot of ramifications, and we are looking forward to seeing the reversal of the situation. For instance we have 58,000 IDPs who are living in camps depending on humanitarian assistance including food, basic water and sanitation, shelter and health services and those who have just returned to their villages who need the same or similar type of assistance. 2.3 million people out of 3.3, 70% of the population requiring one type of humanitarian assistance or the other, that to me is a very serious problem. It's a matter of terminology whether we call it famine or we call it hunger, but in my opinion the country is facing very serious implications of drought.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: So you would say that with two thirds of the population in need of food aid, it's a severe drought not yet a famine?
Musa Bungudu: At this stage I wouldn't want to say famine per se, I would rather look at it as 2/3 of the population of this country as seriously in need not only of food assistance, but they are in need of basic and urgent water support, health and nutrition as well as basic agricultural support because the people are trying as much as possible to see how they can rebuild their lives again and with this drought things are getting more and more complicated. Thousands of Eritrean refugees have returned and I believe that they are retuning into a very challenging situation, so they need all this kind of support.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: You mentioned that the gamut runs between 15 and 28 percent, have you got a global figure for Eritrea for the under five mortality rate and secondly as well, this might seem a tad cynical but, given the scarce resources for aid and shrinking aid and a population of 11 million in Ethiopia who are in dire need as well as, millions in Southern Africa who are in dire need, why should the International Community respond to the crisis in Eritrea, perhaps some people might ask?
Musa Bungudu: I think the objective of any donor is to provide support in terms of humanitarian assistance, I think it's not a matter of population, how many people are affected in terms of numbers. As I am speaking to you 300,000 children in Eritrea are facing a very serious and critical situation. Mostly they are severely or moderately malnourished. This is getting out of hand and 70% of the villages in the country are urgently in need of water assistance. I believe that the plight of the children in Eritrea should also be seen no different from the plight of the children in any part of the world. Children are already dying because they don't have anything to eat. Children at a malnourished level are increasing every day, the long distances that the people have to walk in order to find water to drink is seriously increasing, so all the factors are there and the support from the international community and other members or people that could help individually or families or friends or neighbours, I believe Eritreans deserve to be supported more especially because they are trying to build their lives and they are trying to do things on their own. If this support can come now we will avoid a humanitarian crisis. We do not wish to see lines and lines of therapeutic and supplementary feeding centres everywhere. This is the time to act in order to reverse this kind of problem.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Sorry, did you know the under-five mortality rate?
Musa Bungudu: I don't have the under five-mortality rate, but I do know that over 300,000 children under the age of five years are in a very critical situation. To calculate the infant mortality and maternal mortality connected directly to the drought, we have not been able to do it at this minute, but it is something that we can work out. It is not easily calculated because there are a number of factors when you are talking about infant mortality.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Have you any idea how many children may have died as a result of this drought, you said children are dying because there is nothing to eat?
Musa Bungudu: I do know that over 10,000 children are severely malnourished. This is a report that came from UNICEF and other UN related agencies. If you are asking for the specifics, let's say of the infant mortality we can easily get you the figures which we are working with.
(Mr. Bungudu added that a UNICEF report issued in December confirms "high child mortality already occurring as a result of malnutrition.")
Q [from Asmara]: You were saying that for the moment you have enough food maybe until the end of March or maybe April and then you are waiting for some more to come. How much time will it take if donors decide to help now. How much time would it take to arrive here?
Musa Bungudu: Even if the donors are able to respond as early as possible, procurement and the transportation of food, water, supplies...once you are shipping things from Europe, or from India or from any part of the world coming to Eritrea, except if you bring something from Jedda or Dubai nearby, it would take certainly not less than three months. That's why we are advocating the earlier the commitment is received from the donors, the earlier the procurement process can be initiated and then we c