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Hit by drought and effects of war, Eritrea will need food aid well into 2005 - UN

Hit by drought and effects of war, Eritrea will need food aid well into 2005 - UN

With nearly 1 million Eritreans - almost a quarter of the total population - depending on international food aid for their survival, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that continued assistance will be needed well into the coming year.

Welcoming the arrival of 42,500 tons of wheat for 600,000 Eritreans hit by drought and a further 300,000 suffering from the effects of war, the UN relief agency (WFP) noted that a recent government survey found that in some regions the acute malnutrition rate was as high as 19 per cent on a scale in which 15 per cent is seen as an emergency situation.

"Eritrea has been ravaged by four consecutive years of drought and currently faces nearly complete crop failure in many areas of what should be the country's grain belt," WFP Country Director Jean-Pierre Cebron said at a ceremony at the Red Sea port of Massawa.

"Despite the very generous response from the international community, the emergency here is far from over and we will continue to need support well into 2005," he added.

The new shipment, valued at $13.8 million, consists of 38,000 tons from the European Commission, 2,000 tons from Ireland, 1,500 tons from the United States and 1,000 tons from Japan. It will provide essential food support to those most in need, particularly mothers and young children for three months.

Since the end of the 1998-2000 Ethiopia-Eritrea war, Eritrea has suffered from drought, with harvests in the main grain-producing regions of Gash Barka and Debub particularly hard hit. The destruction caused by war, the prolonged peace process, along with the cumulative effects of drought, have dealt a serious blow to the economy, reducing its capacity to cover food requirements through imports.

Inadequate rainfall in 2004 has destroyed the majority of crops in the worst-affected regions. The bleak harvest, compounded by a dramatic rise in the price of basic foods, means that two-thirds of the population is unable to meet their daily food needs.