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One million Eritreans still need food aid, WFP says

One million Eritreans still need food aid, WFP says

Launching a multi-million dollar emergency relief appeal, a United Nations food agency today expressed grave concern over the fate of 1 million war-affected Eritreans still struggling to meet their basic food needs a year after the end of their country's border conflict with neighbouring Ethiopia.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said it needed $44 million to fund more than 102,000 tonnes of food -- enough to feed a million Eritreans from May 2001 to February 2002. Those requiring emergency relief are 300,000 more than the number WFP fed last year.

"Over the next few months, our first priority is to ensure that families continue to have enough to eat," said Patrick Buckley, Country Director for WFP. "This country is agriculturally crippled. If people are not back in their villages at the latest in one month's time, they will not be able to take advantage of the rains to start cultivating and planting."

The combined effects of drought and war have pushed the price of increasingly scarce basic foodstuffs beyond the means of most Eritrean families. Many of the hundreds of thousands of families forced to flee their homes by the border conflict are farmers from the agriculturally rich regions of Gash Barka and Debub, which generate 70 per cent of the nation's food production.

Among the reasons hindering their return is the delay in the creation of the Temporary Security Zone that covers a large part of Eritrea's agriculturally productive areas, WFP said. Another obstacle is the risk of movement and cultivation in heavily mined areas.

Meanwhile WFP continued its efforts to feed an additional 740,000 victims of the prolonged drought in the country's northern highlands and Red Sea regions. Mr. Buckley emphasized the need to move away from emergency assistance to supporting families while they got back on their feet. That would take months, if not years, he said.