LARGEST SINGLE FOOD AID SHIPMENT
ASMARA - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that a ship carrying 61,200 metric tons of wheat from the United States arrived today in the Red Sea port of Massawa to help alleviate the suffering of some 600,000 people in drought-stricken Eritrea.
"This shipment, the largest single consignment of food aid to Eritrea since its independence in 1991, comes as the country, in its fourth consecutive year of drought, faces nearly complete crop failure in some key food-producing regions," said WFP Country Director Jean-Pierre Cebron.
Some 38,500 of the 61,200 tons aboard the U.S. registered "Liberty Sun" will support WFP's emergency operations in the hard-hit areas of Gash Barka, Debub and Anseba. The remaining 22,700 tons of wheat is a U.S. contribution to the Eritrean Grain Board.
Inadequate rainfall in the last few months has destroyed the majority of crops in the worst-affected regions. The bleak harvest, compounded by a dramatic rise in the price of basic foods, means two-thirds of the population is unable to meet their daily food needs.
A recent government nutritional survey found that malnutrition rates had risen significantly in the affected areas in the last year, reaching as high as 19 percent. Fifteen percent is regarded as an emergency situation.
"We are very grateful to the United States for this generous donation, which will enable WFP to reach those who need our assistance over the next four months," Cebron said. "However, the emergency is far from over and we will continue to need support from the international community into 2005."
Since the end of the 1998-2000 Ethiopia-Eritrea war, Eritrea has suffered from successive droughts, with harvests in the main grain-producing regions of Gash Barka and Debub particularly hard hit. The destruction caused by war, the current stalemate in the peace process, along with the cumulative effects of drought, have dealt a serious blow to the economy, reducing Eritrea's capacity to cover food requirements through imports.
The primary objective of WFP's emergency operation, valued at US$46 million, is to save lives by providing 107,399 tons of food to some 600,000 drought victims to meet their short-term needs. In Eritrea, the bulk of WFP's food aid is distributed as a basic general ration to drought-affected people, with supplementary and therapeutic foods given to malnourished children and pregnant/lactating women through health centres and primary schools. Women represent more than half the food aid beneficiaries.
To date, 85 percent of WFP's requirements under this operation are covered, corresponding to 90,232 tons of food. There has been a wide range of international support to Eritrea, including from: the United States, Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, the OPEC Fund, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
A United Nations Consolidated Appeal for 2005 in collaboration with the government of Eritrea identifies a national food deficit of 505,000 tons. Of this, 384,000 tons are required as emergency food aid, targeting 2.2 million people. The government of Eritrea has requested WFP to provide 262,000 tons of this assistance.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 it provided food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
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