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WFP hails arrival of European wheat for drought-hit Eritrea

MASSAWA, ERITREA - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today welcomed the arrival of 42,500 metric tons of wheat to help alleviate the suffering of 600,000 Eritreans suffering from drought, as well as an additional 300,000 suffering from the effects of war and its economic impact.

The shipment, valued at US$13.8 million, consists of 38,000 tons of wheat from the European Commission, along with 2,000 tons from Ireland, 1,500 tons from the United States and 1,000 tons from Japan.

"Eritrea has been ravaged by four consecutive years of drought and currently faces nearly complete crop failure in many areas of what should be the country's grain belt," said WFP Country Director Jean-Pierre Cebron at a ceremony at the Red Sea port of Massawa.

"We are very grateful to the European Commission and the governments of Ireland, Japan, and the United States for their generous cooperation, which will provide three months of essential food support to those most in need, particularly mothers and young children," Cebron said.

The wheat will support WFP's emergency and recovery operations in the particularly hard-hit areas of Gash Barka, Debub and Anseba, where nearly one million people depend on food assistance for their survival.

Inadequate rainfall in 2004 has destroyed the majority of crops in these worst-affected regions. The bleak harvest, compounded by a dramatic rise in the price of basic foods, means that two-thirds of the population is unable to meet their daily food needs.

A recent government nutritional survey found that malnutrition rates rose significantly in the affected areas in the past year. In some regions in Eritrea the acute malnutrition rate is as high as 19 percent, on a scale in which 15 percent is seen as an emergency situation.

"Despite the very generous response from the international community, the emergency here is far from over and we will continue to need support well into 2005," Cebron said.

Since the end of the 1998-2000 Ethiopia-Eritrea war, Eritrea has suffered from drought, with harvests in the main grain-producing regions of Gash Barka and Debub particularly hard hit. The destruction caused by war, the prolonged peace process, along with the cumulative effects of drought, have dealt a serious blow to the economy, reducing its capacity to cover food requirements through imports.

The combined value of WFP's nine-month emergency operation and its two-year relief and recovery operation in Eritrea amounts to over US$91 million. These interventions aim to save lives and to support internally displaced persons along with recovery activities such as school feeding and therapeutic feeding of malnourished children and pregnant and nursing women through health centres and primary schools. The operations will provide 212,000 tons of food to some one million people, with women representing more than half these food aid beneficiaries.

To date, some 75 percent of WFP's requirements under these operations are covered, corresponding to approximately 158,000 tons of food. In addition to the EC, the United States (US$21.4 million), the Netherlands (US$4.3 million), the United Kingdom (US$1.9 million), Canada (US$ 3.1 million), Germany (US$1.7 million), Norway (US$1.6 million), the OPEC Fund (US$1.4 million), Austria (US$1.4 million), Finland (US$1.4 million), Australia (US$1.3 million), Ireland (US$1.3 million), Japan (US$1 million), Saudi Arabia (US$700,000), Denmark (US$700,000), Switzerland (US$600,000), France (US$300,000), and Poland (US$40,000) have contributed to WFP operations in Eritrea.

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 tons. Of this, 384,000 tons are required as emergency food aid for an estimated 2.2 million people, 1.25 million of whom will be targeted by WFP.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003, we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign For just 19 US cents a day, you can help WFP give children in poor countries a healthy meal at school -- a gift of hope for a brighter future.

Visit our website: www.wfp.org

For more information please contact (email: lastname.firstname@wfp.org):

Jean-Pierre Cebron,
WFP Representative/Country Director,
Asmara, Eritrea,
Tel. +2911 184735

Rene McGuffin,
WFP Regional Information Officer,
Nairobi, Kenya,
Tel. +254 20 622 594

Brenda Barton,
Deputy Director Communications,
WFP/Rome,
Tel. +39-06-65132602,
Mob. +39-3472582217

Gregory Barrow,
WFP/London,
Tel. +44-20-75929292,
Mob. +44-7968-008474

Christiane Berthiaume,
WFP/Geneva,
Tel. +41-22-9178564,
Mob. +41-79-2857304

Trevor Rowe,
WFP/NY,
Tel. +1-212-9635196,
Mob. +1-646-8241112,
rowe@un.org

Jordan Dey,
WFP/Washington,
Tel. +1-202-6530010 ext. 1149,
Mob. +1-202-4223383