- The ongoing drought in Eritrea is set to continue as failing rains are set to produce a total crop failure in the country. Up to 20 percent of the population in the most affected areas are already suffering from acute malnutrition and the humanitarian crisis is set to deepen. An international aid effort is only in its first preparations.
According to the latest Eritrea report by the US agency Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS), inadequate September rainfall probably would result in a "total failure" of long-cycle crops and a below average harvest of short-cycle crops in Eritrea. The food security outlook for Eritrea was described as critical.
A nutrition survey conducted by the Eritrean Ministry of Health found an "extremely high level of global acute malnutrition" in several remote areas without access to health facilities. The so-called Global Acute Malnutrition rate reached 19.1 percent in Gash Barka zone, which has been most affected by the drought. The food emergency is threatening to develop into famine if aid efforts fail to materialise.
Food relief has not been arriving at sufficient amounts during the last months. Although the number of food aid beneficiaries had originally been estimated at 1.9 million Eritreans for the past 8 months, "only 1.3 million on average received food aid and at reduced rations," according to the FEWS report. By August, the figure had even dropped to only 1 million beneficiaries, even if aid needs had not dropped, the agency's statistics demonstrate.
The number of people in need of emergency relief assistance is still estimated at 1.9 million this year, according to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). With the expected "total failure of long-cycle crops" later this year, these estimates may however be regulated upwards.
Most of the country is also in dire need of drinking water and tens of thousands of people required immediate and accelerated water trucking, the FEWS report said. Further, the inadequate and irregular rains in July and August have reduced available pastures.
Prices of most foods have been very high on Eritrean urban markets since the past few months, making the market a less viable option for most urban and rural poor households. "Because harvest prospects are poor, this trend is not expected to change," the FEWS report concludes.
In a first response to the ever-increasing food emergency, a special UN envoy today, Martti Ahtisaari, arrived in Eritrea to review the humanitarian situation there. High on Mr Ahtisaari's agenda "will be efforts to raise international awareness of the humanitarian crisis in Eritrea and ongoing measures to address the food security situation," the UN informed the press today.
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