By Jonah Fisher
ASMARA, April 1 (Reuters) - Eritrea is
winning a better response to a food aid appeal for its drought-stricken people
compared to last year but the situation is still critical in parts of the
country, relief officials said on Thursday.
Aid workers say the invasion of Iraq
increased food aid costs last year, as relief agencies sought to stockpile
supplies in anticipation of a possible humanitarian crisis there.
"Last year because of the war with
Iraq, transport and procurement costs escalated. This year it's been possible
to get more food with less money," Musa Bunguda, head of the U.N. Office
for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs in Eritrea, told Reuters.
Bunguda said Eritrea asked for $147 million
of food aid for 2004 and had so far received 17.6 percent response, compared
with just 2.4 percent by the same period last year. The United States is
providing about half the assistance.
Aid workers say donors are more conscious of
the humanitarian situation in Eritrea and coordination with donors has
"Last year we got into an unnecessary
debate regarding the numbers in the appeal. We've been very clear and specific
this year," said Mamadou Mbaye of the United Nation's World Food
Despite the improvement, aid workers say the
situation is still critical in parts of the tiny Red Sea state, where almost
half the population of roughly four million depend on food aid.
"I'm appealing to the donors in
particular to help with the non-food items," Bunguda said, referring to
items such as tools.
Relief officials say the humanitarian
situation in Eritrea has been compounded by the stalled demarcation of a new
border between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which has prevented people uprooted by war
from returning to homes in the border zone.
The border was drawn up by an independent
commission under the terms of a peace deal to end the neighbours' 1998-2000
border conflict, but Ethiopia has objected to the boundary ruling and the line
has yet to be marked out on the ground.
United Nations special envoy for the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa,
former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, arrived in Eritrea on Wednesday for
his third visit to assess the situation in the country, before heading on to
neighbouring Ethiopia, which is also recovering from drought.