- Serious and widespread food insecurity is reported to persists in Eritrea, despite the on-going emergency relief efforts. About 29 percent of Eritrean children are now reported to suffer from acute malnutrition in the most affected areas of the country.
Existing data confirm the magnitude and persistence of the food security crisis in Eritrea. Cereal prices still continue to rise and there are reports of small scale population migrations in search of employment or relief.
Data compiled by the UN children agency UNICEF indicates the acute malnutrition rate for children under five continues to hover around 20 percent in many Eritrean zobas, with a severe malnutrition rate of approximately 2 percent. However, evidence on whether the situation has deteriorated further in the last few months is inconclusive.
- Immediate improvements in food security will depend primarily on increased deliveries of relief food, concludes the US agency Famine Early Network Systems (FEWS). "While significant food aid pledges have occurred in the last couple of months, the rate of food deliveries to Eritrea has been very slow."
Consequently during April, food relief was delivered to 1.3 million beneficiaries, compared to the stated target of 2.3 million. Beneficiaries are receiving only 60 percent rations, and nearly half receive a pure cereal ration. Even at this rate of distribution, existing stocks will only last until end of July.
Due to this failure in meeting the starving population's needs, "expediting deliveries between now and late October, the main hunger period, is critical," FEWS warns. Significant harvests are not expected until November 2003.
- Immediate priorities for further donor pledges would include supplementary foods, to be targeted to the malnourished and vulnerable under fives; and oils and pulses to provide a nutritionally balanced general ration, FEWS advises. Given the limited food resources, efficient and improved geographic targeting was essential. Complementary non-food interventions were also deemed to be critical and "deserve further attention."
Perennial water shortages have been exacerbated by the current drought and protecting access to water is a major priority. To promote agricultural recovery a significant seed distribution program is on-going. The window for the delivery of seeds continues until August for pulses.
Meanwhile, the 2003 production season has commenced in some highland areas with the planting of long-cycle crops. While the start of the spring 'azmera' rains has been patchy, the rains in early May are improving. It was however "too early to draw conclusions for the 2003 harvest," FEWS reports.
Livestock remained in poor condition and replenishment of the water and grazing was said to be critical. Livestock production has been adversely affected by the drought, with widespread reports of poor body condition. Livestock were "critically dependent on adequate rains in the coming season."
- Overall the performance of the 'azmera' and 'kremti' rains will be critical in determining the food security situation in the coming year, the US agency warns. "Now would be an appropriate time to consider developing a contingency plan, incorporating a range of possible scenarios."
Given that the current 'emergency' incorporates a significant chronic component, it was to be expected that "even good 'kremti' rains will not ensure food security in 2004." Therefore appropriate interventions needed to be identified for next year, the FEWS report concludes.
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