afrol News, 30 August - The Eritrean government urgently appeals to international donors to assist the country during a new humanitarian crisis. Still weakened by earlier conflicts, a drought was "seriously threatening the survival of people and livestock across the country."
- At a critical moment when the country has been striving to overcome the caseload of a complex humanitarian situation that resulted from the border conflict with Ethiopia and natural calamities over the last four years, Eritrea is faced by another year of severe and extensive spell of drought, the Eritrean government's appeal says.
According to an assessment made jointly by government institutions, UN system and the NGOs, agricultural production will be minimal this year. The assessment has forecasted that the total national cereal harvest this year may not exceed 70,000 metric tons, signifying a reduction by 84 percent from the anticipated production of 452,000 metric tons.
The long-cycle crops planted under the extreme dry weather and soil conditions in the spring (March-May) season had completely failed to germinate. The onset of main 'Kremti' or summer (June-September) rainfall had been delayed by over six weeks, and even after it started at the third dekad of July it had been inconsistent and unevenly distributed. The cumulative amount of rainfall in all regions had been below 50 percent, with most places receiving below 25 percent of the historic average.
- At the time of the assessment, only 36.6 percent of the area planned for cultivation this year was planted, the Eritrean government says. Even though the normal planting period for most varieties of cereals is almost over, farmers were still planting with the hope that the rainfall might be extended beyond the normal period. The period remaining now is normally suited for planting pulses, including chickpeas and vetch, in limited localities in the Debub, Maekel and Gash-Barka zones.
According to the appeal, already a caseload of over one million victims of drought and war are undergoing critical shortages of food. "The situation is compounded by very low food aid response to the 2002 appeal during the past eight months," the government says." The survival of thousands of children and pregnant and breast feeding mothers may thus be at serious risk with the unfolding massive food deficit."
Due to the prolonged dry spell that prevailed for almost 10 months (August 2001 to July 2002), most places had also experienced unusual drop in the water table of the wells, causing acute drinking water shortages for people and livestock before the rains set on late in July. Several wells that were surveyed at the peak of the rainy season revealed that the water table did not recharge to normal levels. Most of the seasonal streams and springs were still empty. Many places were thus predicted to encounter serious drinking water shortages with abnormally earlier onset.
The livestock have been adversely affected by lack of graze, as the 'Azmera' or spring rains that support early regeneration of vegetation had failed and the main summer rains set on late. Everywhere livestock are emaciated, as the landscape was either completely barren or the vegetation had not grown to grazeable heights.
Herders had started to migrate from the normally prospective pastoral areas in desperate search of graze, the government says. "In some places in zobas of Anseba and Northern Red Sea livestock have started to die in big numbers."
The Eritrean government was therefore issuing "this advance appeal to request the International Community for urgent assistance to prevent the already existing critical humanitarian situation from further deteriorating into a major catastrophe."
The primary focus of this emergency call included the provision of some 400,000 metric tons of cereals, proportionate quantities of pulses and edible oil, as well as nutritional supplements. "The situation also calls for speedy response in the areas of health, water supply and institutional support, in order to stave-off the threat of drought induced famine on the lives of people and livestock," the government appeal said.
Sources: Based on Eritrean