Eritrea surviving on donated food
9 Nov 2004 (AFP) - There are rocks and cacti, camels and the remains of
armoured vehicles: But there is no greenery. This is the landscape of most of the
Gash Barka region in western Eritrea, the small Horn of Africa country where no
river runs all year round. Severe drought for a third year running has made the
population deeply dependent on humanitarian aid.
Eritrea will need some $200m of food aid to avoid starvation," said Piet
Vochten, Head of Programme for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Eritrea.
The WFP said that
out of the country's estimated 3.5 million inhabitants, 2.2 million will need
food aid in 2005.
reveals how bad the situation in Eritrea is: in 2003, the country received
"350 000 tons of food, and if you divide that number by the
population, you get 100kg per inhabitant, representing the highest amount of
food aid per inhabitant in the world," Vochten said.
According to the
WFP, 80% of the population in the Gash Barka region receive food aid.
Beketa Alamin, 11,
is one of the beneficiaries, and wearing a pretty green dress, she ate her
food-aid lunch in the playground of her school in the small town of Shambuko.
In this region
children sometimes miss school and work instead to help their families, but
Beketa said that "the food-aid I get here twice a day is an incentive for
me to come to the lessons" and reassures her family.
fewer girls than boys go to school, so we have created take-home rations, just
for girls, to encourage them even more to come to their lessons," said
Alem Birhane who works for the WFP in Shambuko.
This small town is
situated in the 25km wide and 1 000km long Temporary Security Zone (TSZ).
The zone was established along the frontier between Eritrea and Ethiopia after
their 1998-2000 border war, and is currently administered by a UN peacekeeping
In September 2003,
Ethiopia rejected the "final and binding" demarcation decision despite
both parties having promised to respect it.
In the TSZ, quite
apart from the drought, the tense political climate and uncleared landmines do
not make agricultural production any easier.
Around Adi Keshi
Camp, west of Shambuko, the landscape is even more that of a desert, with only
rocky hills and barren ochre land.
About 18 000
displaced Eritreans live in the camp and they depend totally on food aid
because nothing at all grows there.