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WFP warns food aid supplies running out in Ethiopia and Eritrea

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NAIROBI - The United Nations World Food Programme today warned that more food aid was urgently needed to avert severe human suffering in drought-affected Ethiopia and Eritrea, where relief stocks will run out in the approaching months.
"In Ethiopia, 11 million people are in urgent need of food and other relief assistance. If more donations are not received urgently, food distributions will have to be halted by the end of June," said Holdbrook Arthur, WFP Regional Director for Eastern and Central Africa.

"In Eritrea, where 1.4 million people are affected by drought and an additional 900,000 are displaced or recovering from the recent war, food aid stocks will dry up by the end of April - just one month from now," said Arthur.

Inadequate and poorly dispersed rain greatly reduced both countries' food production last year. Millions of people are surviving thanks to international relief assistance, however more support is urgently needed to avert severe malnutrition and starvation from July, when people traditionally face the worst food shortages during the lean season, which precedes the main harvest.

"In Ethiopia, a break in the food pipeline is expected at the end of June. So far, only 58 percent of the 1.4 million metric tons of food required in Ethiopia has been pledged, leaving a huge shortfall of more than 600,000 metric tons," said Arthur.

WFP is also greatly concerned about insufficient stocks of nutritious blended foods to assist malnourished children and mothers. Programmes run by WFP and NGOs require almost 128,000 metric tons of blended food, however Ethiopia has only received 40 percent of its total requirements so far.

Last month, more than 100,000 metric tons of food aid was dispatched to feed more than eight million Ethiopians. But due to insufficient stocks of relief food, beneficiaries are getting 12.5 kg of cereal per person per month instead of the normal 15 kg monthly ration -- not enough for people entirely dependent on food aid. While the stretching of available food stocks allows more people to be reached, the reduction in rations leads to families' food supplies being unacceptably low.

As a growing number of people exhaust their small December harvest, aid agencies are closely watching malnutrition levels in drought affected areas of the country.

In Ethiopia, concerns about food shortages began to emerge in the middle of last year, following a prolonged dry spell between the early end of the short rains (belg) in April and the main crop season rains (meher) which began four to six weeks late. In 2002, cereal and pulse production were down 25 percent from last year's level.

Eritrea has seen its fourth year of drought, which in 2002 severely affected key grain producing areas. The cumulative shocks, worsened by the 1998 war, have left the population with little means of coping with yet another year of shortages. Cereal production was just 20 percent of the national ten-year average, and will cover less than 10 percent of the annual national cereal requirements.

As the country faces its worst crop failure since independence in 1993, worrying malnutrition rates are increasingly being reported. In the southern region of Debub, where the nutritional situation is rapidly deteriorating, WFP is assisting the Ministry of Health to extend a therapeutic feeding programme to as many hospitals as possible in the region.

Funding shortfalls have meant that WFP cannot distribute the recommended level of relief food rations, and communities are running out of food before the next food distribution is due. Only about one-quarter of WFP's appeal to feed 1.4 million people in Eritrea has been met, leaving US$77 million dollars of food assistance still urgently required.

"Time is rapidly running out for help to arrive in Eritrea," said Arthur. "An irreversible spectre of widespread malnutrition and starvation is becoming a reality with each day that passes."

A lack of water is also posing a serious threat to the survival of both humans and livestock. In some areas, regular water points have dried up while in others, the water tables are increasingly low. Many villagers have resorted to walking long distances in search of water whereas many town dwellers rely on water supplied by water trucks. The cost of water has doubled over the past month.

In addition, livestock holdings are under severe stress. Approximately one-third of livestock in Eritrea -- a major source of livelihood -- risk death due to lack of water, pasture and fodder. In many areas such as the Northern Red Sea area, thousands of livestock deaths have already occurred. The amount of grain pastoralists can obtain by selling their animals is rapidly decreasing, as distress livestock sales rise and prices drop.

"As international attention is increasingly focused on other parts of the world, the life-saving needs of millions of people in Eritrea and Ethiopia, as well as in other parts of Africa, must absolutely not be forgotten," said Arthur.

To find out more about growing hunger in Africa and the global campaign to assist more than 38 million people across the continent, go to WFP's "Africa Hunger Alert" webpage. Videos and photos are also available: www.wfp.org/AfricaHungerAlert.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. Every year WFP feeds around 80 million people in 82 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.

For more information please contact:

Wagdi Othman, WFP Public Information Officer, Ethiopia, Tel. +251-9-201976
Mamadou Mbaye, WFP Deputy Country Director, Eritrea, Tel + 291 1 184735
Brenda Barton, WFP Regional Information Officer, Kenya, Tel. +254-733-528912
Trevor Rowe, WFP Chief Spokesperson, Tel. +39-06-65132602
Christiane Berthiaume, Public Affairs Officer, WFP Geneva, Tel. +41-22-9178564
Jordan Dey, Public Affairs Officer, WFP New York, Tel +1-212-9635196