Eritrea + 1 more

USAID fact sheet: Hunger in the Horn of Africa

Overview of Food Security Assistance

Emergency food assistance, like that being provided this year in Ethiopia and Eritrea, is necessary to save lives. The U.S. believes that without this assistance, the development track that these countries are on will be further eroded, leaving populations at greater risk when the next food crisis occurs.

The U.S. recognizes that food assistance alone cannot break the cycle of famine. The U.S. is assisting leaders of famine prone countries in growing their economies and addressing the underlying causes of repeated food crises. Our shared goal is for famine-prone countries to reach a state of development where they have the resilience to manage food crises utilizing their own resources.

There are three core elements to reducing the risk of famine in Africa:

  • Improving early warning systems and other market-based information systems.

  • Increasing access to essential services (i.e. health, education, sanitation) for the chronically food insecure

  • Expanding commercial smallholder agriculture. These activities include increasing capacity through sustainable agriculture, building effective markets, increasing productivity and promoting better management of economic resources and the environment.


The U.S. government estimates that there are currently 12 million Ethiopians in need of urgent food assistance. This number is 3 million higher than the Ethiopian Government's current appeal.

The Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) data, coupled with reports by USAID's Mission in Ethiopia and numerous nutritional surveys carried out by non-governmental organizations indicate that the number of people currently receiving assistance is significantly lower than the number of people in need. (Note: FEWS NET was created to strengthen the ability of African countries and regional organizations to manage the risk of food insecurity).

The transition to Ethiopia's "Productive Safety Net Program" (PSNP) increased the vulnerability in many regions because not all of the 5.4 million intended recipients are yet receiving adequate levels of assistance. (Note: in at least two regions, cash-based PSNP beneficiaries received only 20% of the assistance required.)

The Government of Ethiopia released a Flash Appeal to donors in May, 2005, reflecting an increase in the beneficiary numbers. However, the appeal was underestimated because it did not adjust beneficiary numbers in Amhara and the Somali regions, despite poor rains in both, in the early part of 2005. It also did not reflect the current flooding in the Somali region that is exacerbating an already critical humanitarian situation.

The Government of Ethiopia plans to conduct a needs assessment in June-July, 2005, to determine the impact of the rains on the Belg/Gu harvest. Historically, Belg/Gu assessments have shown significant increases in beneficiary numbers and food requirements, especially in pastoral areas (i.e. areas used primarily by herders).

The estimate of the number of vulnerable people in Ethiopia is based on accepted indicators of pre-famine and famine conditions which include:

  • Distress Migration, Measles, Meningitis and Consumption of Famine Foods - Distress migration - movement of people to other areas where food may be more available - is occurring in many areas, often accompanied by the consumption of famine foods. Outbreaks of meningitis and measles have also been reported. Along with diarrhea, malaria and pneumonia these are the biggest killers in a food crisis. (Note: similar distress patterns were evident during the 2002-2003 Ethiopian famine).

  • Deteriorating Malnutrition and Excess Under Five Mortality - Recent surveys indicate that malnutrition rates are exceeding critical emergency thresholds. The "under 5 mortality rate" is now at a critical level, having reached 2 deaths per 10,000 per day.

  • High, Stabilized Price of Cereals - Food prices have remained high even in the post-harvest period. This has serious implications for poor households who rely on markets for a significant part of their food needs.

  • Excess livestock deaths - The Ethiopian Government states that animal deaths exceeded 50 percent in some areas of the Afar and Somali regions. This will have an adverse impact on the health and nutrition of the vulnerable.


An ongoing five-year drought coupled with the impact of a labor shortage stemming from the military mobilization and a shortage of hard currency reserves, results in Eritrea being able to cover only 19% of its own food needs in 2005.

If there are any additional humanitarian crises or breaks in food deliveries, the situation could quickly become critical for the 2.2 million affected, as many households' coping mechanisms are already exhausted and their assets depleted.

In Eritrea, the general distribution rations have been cut to 60% to avoid food delivery breaks and some areas of the country that need assistance are not receiving assistance (e.g. urban Asmara).

While two-thirds of the population receives food aid in Eritrea, some populations, such as pastoralists (i.e. herders) have been even harder hit, resulting in a 70-80% depletion of their herds. FEWS NET reports indicate that these affected pastoralists may not recover.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has provided economic and humanitarian assistance worldwide for more than 40 years.

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