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Food aid distribution slows down

Eritrea has stopped food aid distribution to more than one million people, in an apparent attempt by the government to reduce its reliance on foreign aid, according to aid officials in the Eritrean capital of Asmara.

After a poor harvest in 2004, Eritrea is one of the most food aid dependent countries in the world. The UN estimates that 2.3 million of the country's 3.6 million people require food aid this year.

"General food distribution to drought affected victims has temporarily stopped for both UN and NGOs," a diplomat, who declined to be named, said.

In September, the UN and the US government received authorisation to distribute food to just 72,000 Eritreans, down from roughly 1.3 million in August, the diplomat said.

Aid officials said the reason given for the sharp reduction in distribution of food aid was a government policy shift from free food distribution to food-for-work. Eritrea is keen to reduce its dependence on foreign aid. However, aid officials said the change in policy would take months to implement, if not more.

September and October are hungry months in Eritrea, because the previous harvest has run out and the harvest for 2006 is still in the fields.

"We need to distribute the food while the policy change goes through," a UN official, who requested anonymity, said.

A better harvest is expected this year - possibly three times better than 2004 - after good seasonal rains and plans to cultivate 550,000 hectares - 23 percent more than in 2004. Aid officials said Eritrea would still remain heavily dependent on food aid.

Some aid officials said a food-for-work policy in Eritrea would fail. As many as 300,000 Eritreans are doing national service, and conscript labour is used in many economic sectors, including agriculture and infrastructure projects. However, distribution of food aid to the military would go against many humanitarian principles, aid officials said.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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