|UN warns shift in focus could aggravate food crisis in Eritrea |
ASMARA, ERITREA, 3 Aug 2004 (IRIN) - Some 1.9 million Eritreans who are currently in need of food aid could suffer even more because the world has shifted its focus to other crises such as Darfur in western Sudan, the United Nations has warned.
Eritrea grew only 20 percent of the food it needed last year and has appealed to the international community for US $120 million to, among other things, offset the shortfall. But so far, just 28 percent of the appeal has been promised - significantly less than what was pledged at the same time last year.
"When we speak to donors they mention problems in Darfur just in the same way last year they were mentioning problems in Iraq," Simon Nhongo, the UN resident humanitarian coordinator in Eritrea told IRIN.
"The donors were not reluctant or embarrassed to say that Eritrea would not get much support," he added. "With the onset of the Darfur problem the world's attention is going to be diverted away from Eritrea and the actual assistance is going to be diverted away too."
Eritrea has suffered four consecutive years of drought, creating a need for food aid for 1.9 million people. Lack of consistent rain has been compounded by instability relating to the still undemarcated border with Ethiopia. According to relief workers, at least 10 percent of Eritrea's 3.3 million people are currently in military service creating a shortage of manpower.
"The consequences (of an aid shortfall) would be the worsening of the nutritional situation," Nhongo added. "Nutritional levels would decline to a level whereby the long term damage particularly on the young and expectant mothers would be very severe. The results don't have to be obvious and immediate, but they could still be devastating in the long term."
UN agencies, international NGO's and the Eritrean government launched a consolidated appeal in November 2003 for $147 million to cover food and non-food needs. But they revised the amount downwards to $120 million when grain and transport costs fell.
Nhongo also appealed separately for $10 million dollars to fund the return of internally displaced people to their homes and for settlement packages for 8,000 Ethiopian expellees.
"We need the donor community to help us with these poor people who have been stuck in camps for the last four years," Nhongo said "It's not going to cost that much, to get the expellees out of the camp would just cost $1.8 million".
An estimated 57,000 Eritreans were displaced from their homes during the border conflict with Ethiopia that lasted from 1998 to 2000, and have been unable to return home due to continuing instability and landmines in the border areas. The expellees were deported from Ethiopia during the same period.
With sufficient resources all the expellees and 20 percent of those displaced could now leave the camps, Nhongo said.