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Eritrea’s worsening humanitarian situation threatens 1 million people, UN agencies warn

Eritrea’s worsening humanitarian situation threatens 1 million people, UN agencies warn

More than a million Eritreans are threatened by a humanitarian crisis sparked by prolonged drought that seriously affected agricultural and livestock production, two United Nations agencies said in a joint report issued this week.

Rainfall has been poor over the past year, placing at risk the food security situation of thousands of farmers and pastoralists who make up most of Eritrea’s working population, according to the report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

The cereal harvest, which is expected to be 60 per cent below the average of the last 10 years, will cover only about 15 per cent of Eritrea’s food requirement instead of the typical 40 to 50 per cent. The agencies warned that international assistance would be needed to cover a shortfall of 283,000 tons of cereal.

“The current poor agricultural season could not have come at a worse time,” the report asserts, because Eritrea is still recovering from a devastating war with Ethiopia. A large number of people, including farmers, are still displaced and thousands of soldiers are yet to be demobilized. In addition, the continuing resettlement of Eritrean refugees returning from Sudan is placing an extra strain on the country’s resources.

While stressing the need for outside assistance to meet Eritrea’s extensive emergency needs, the report also acknowledges a risk of people developing an over-reliance on food aid with the expectation that this assistance will be provided on a regular basis. “This is proving destructive to some traditional coping strategies, and creating a vicious cycle that can lead to dependency,” the agencies say. They recommend that emergency food aid “be provided only to those who cannot survive or will become destitute without it.”