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01 Apr 2004 14:09:14 GMT
Eritrea wins more food aid for drought victims


 

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 improved.

"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 Programme.

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.

The 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.

 
  
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