Eritrea needs urgent help to stave off looming humanitarian crisis, UN official says
Faced with recovering from a devastating war with Ethiopia and a crop-killing drought, Eritrea requires urgent help from the international community to stave off a looming humanitarian disaster, a top United Nations relief official said today.
"Right now, Eritreans need to commit many of their resources to coping with the residual effects of war, but can't because of the drought. It makes my heart heavy to think what will happen a few months down the road if the international community does not respond quickly," Kenzo Oshima, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said as he wrapped up his three-day mission to the country today.
Eritrea was the last stop of a 12-day, four-nation tour through the Horn of Africa for Mr. Oshima, who went to the region to observe the effects of the drought and to mobilize international support for the countries suffering food shortages.
While in Eritrea, Mr. Oshima discussed the humanitarian situation with President Isaias Afwerki, government officials, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and donor representatives. He also visited the drought stricken areas of Gash Barka and Debub.
"What we saw in Gash Barka and Debub Provinces left no doubt that the humanitarian situation in Eritrea is dire and requires urgent assistance from the international community," he said. "The response must be broad enough to address the underlying factors that have made Eritrea so vulnerable to drought."
Mr. Oshima also saw near-total crop failure in Barentu, an area that traditionally produces 80 per cent of the country's sorghum. Near Tsorona, a town trying hard to rebuild after being razed two years ago, he visited camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) unable to return home because their land has been mined or their homes destroyed.
The Relief Coordinator underscored that, in responding to the crisis, food aid must be complemented by equally important programmes for water and sanitation, health and care of livestock. In addition to helping with immediate needs, he urged the government and the international community to tackle issues such as post-war reconstruction, the safe return of refugees and IDPs, landmines and poverty. "If issues like these are not addressed, we may well find ourselves with a similar emergency on our hands in a few years," he warned.
In November, the UN system is expected to launch a consolidated appeal for Eritrea, which will detail the number of people in need in 2003 and the plan for helping them.