Eritrea's food crisis is expected to worsen quickly unless rapid action is taken, and the number of drought-affected people is likely to increase this year, a report has warned.
The US government's Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS) said Eritrea was reeling from severe shocks to its asset base, already undermined by years of conflict and drought, as well as pervasive poverty.
It noted that 1.4 million people - over a third of the population - were directly affected by drought and this number was set to increase this year. And more than two thirds of the population required food and non-food aid.
"Insufficient rainfall for crops and livestock, labour shortages due to mobilisation, the pressure of internally displaced people (IDPs) and returnees, and an economic tailspin contribute to an overall picture of high food insecurity," it said.
"The current harvest will be exhausted early in 2003 while the value of livestock, weakened by shortage of water and fodder, is expected to fall further with increased distress sales," the report warned. "Supplies of drinking water for human consumption could reach critically low levels early this year."
It noted that while livestock prices were falling, food prices had escalated. Furthermore, malnutrition rates were high and rising. "Because malnutrition is a trailing indicator, signalling a late stage in an emergency at the point when finally children are not getting enough to eat, it points to a rapidly deteriorating situation requiring immediate action," the report stressed.
It also pointed to the declining value of the nakfa against major currencies and limited foreign exchange reserves which had eroded the country's ability to finance imports or reconstruct war-damaged infrastructure, following the 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia. Landmine threats and insecurity along the southern border with Ethiopia had hindered the movement of people and livestock and thus greatly reduced agricultural and other economic activities.
"The most vulnerable groups affected by short-term shocks are the poorer crop-dependent farmers and agro-pastoralists who have far fewer options for obtaining sufficient food," the report stressed.
It noted the need for targeted food aid and called for stepping up delivery of emergency food aid to meet immediate needs.
Full report available at: www.fews.net
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