ERITREA: Food shortages feared as rains fail
NAIROBI, 3 October 2008 (IRIN) - A combination of poor rains, decreased food production and the knock-on effects of increased global prices would adversely affect vulnerable groups in Eritrea this year, aid agencies warned.
"Spikes in acute malnutrition among children are being seen in parts of Eritrea," the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said.
In a 22 September update, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), noted that an "increased number of Eritrean immigrants reaching the Afar region of Ethiopia are in a very poor nutritional condition".
Eritrea's predominantly pastoralist population is expected to be particularly hard-hit due to a lack of pasture for their livestock, but data on the total number of people affected is unavailable.
The onset of the farming season was delayed partly due to very poor rains in June. "The Azmera rains (March to May) have been below average," said OCHA. The poor rains followed failed Bahri (October to February) rains.
"The ongoing Kremti rainy season looks particularly bad, with an estimate of 200,000 MT of cereal production, which represents nearly half of the 2007 production," it added. The extent of the rains would determine ultimate production.
The UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated US$2 million to Eritrea - part of which will be used by the Food and Agriculture Organization to provide at least 26,000 households with seeds, fertiliser and tools.
The UN World Health Organization was also scaling up programmes to improve malnutrition detection and treatment for about 120,000 children under-five.
In addition, the Red Cross Society of Eritrea plans to strengthen its disaster preparedness, response and recovery capacities. The society, whose activities had been suspended, resumed operations in March.
Eritrea, which normally meets 60 percent of its food requirements, needs significant imports to help meet its current food needs, stated the OCHA report.
Last year, Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki told IRIN his government was implementing programmes of food security, soil and water conservation, introducing new technologies, educating people and using available resources to enhance agricultural production.
He criticised dependency on "outside support", saying it may have its positive aspects but the negative consequences always outweighed the positive.