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Acute water shortages put nearly 250,000 more Eritreans at risk

ASMARA - In Eritrea, where five successive years of inadequate rainfall have led to two-thirds of the population relying almost entirely on food assistance for survival, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has responded to increasing needs by revising and extending its emergency operation.
The US$75 million operation launched in April aims to assist 840,000 drought-affected people, 240,000 more than the original nine-month project, which ended last month. The original emergency operation appealed for US$50 million, but finished up with a 37 percent shortfall.
"The situation in Eritrea remains dire, as drought-like conditions become the norm. Many Eritreans have already resorted to their traditional surviving strategies of skipping meals, selling livestock, producing and selling charcoal. There is no relief in sight," WFP Eritrea Country Director Jean-Pierre Cebron said.
"The spring Azmera rains have begun to fall, but once again they are erratic, light and localised. Herders are migrating earlier and longer distances with their animals in search of grazing lands, and many Eritreans must queue for hours at fewer and fewer water points. Even in the areas around the capital, water shortages are acute, with deliveries taking place only once or twice a week," he added.
Insufficient rains, combined with inadequate agricultural infrastructure, have once again caused crops to fail, livestock to become emaciated and food prices to rise, with basic items like sugar, bread, and milk not readily available in many markets. The destruction caused by the 1998-2000 war with neighbouring Ethiopia, the prolonged peace process, along with the cumulative effects of drought, have dealt serious blows to the economy, reducing the government's capacity to cover food requirements through imports.
Particularly bad off are the areas of Debub, Anseba and Gash Barka which in years past were considered Eritrea's green belt. A 2004 assessment by WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that only 13 percent of the country's cereal needs would be met by the 2004 harvest.
The extended emergency operation will provide general relief food rations to the most drought-prone regions for five months until a new relief and recovery operation begins in September. In addition, it will aim to improve the nutrition of severely malnourished children and pregnant and nursing mothers through health facilities, and provide an additional monthly ration of highly-nutritious corn soya blend in areas where malnutrition rates exceed 15 percent.
Malnutrition rates continue to be exceptionally high in many parts of Eritrea, with 10 to 20 percent global acute malnutrition cases among infants in Gash Barka, Anseba and Northern and Southern Red Sea. According to 2004 data from the Ministry of Health, 50 percent of children under five are underweight, and 42 percent rate of pregnant and nursing mothers are underweight - one of the highest rates in Africa.
In addition to this extended five-month emergency operation, WFP Eritrea's on-going two-year relief and recovery operation, targeting 300,000 people and valued at US$50 million, aims to support internally displaced persons and such recovery activities as school feeding.
A United Nations Consolidated Appeal for 2005 prepared by the UN in collaboration with the Government of Eritrea identifies a national food deficit of 505,000 metric tons. Of this, 384,000 tons are required as food aid for an estimated 2.2 million people, an estimated 1.2 million of whom will be targeted by WFP.
The Japanese government has already responded to the new operation by providing US$400,000. Donations to WFP Eritrea's 2004-2005 Emergency Operation came from: United States (US$12.4 million), EC (US$12 million), Italy (US$1.5 million), Canada (US1.3 million), Netherlands (US$900,000), Ireland (US$600,000), and Japan (US$300,000).

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: each year, we give food to an average of 90 million people, including 56 million hungry children, in more than 80 countries.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.

For more information please contact (email:

Jean-Pierre Cebron,
Country Director,
WFP/Eritrea: Tel +291 1 184735

Rene McGuffin,
Public Information Officer,
WFP/Nairobi: Tel +254 (0) 20 622 594