ROME, 3 October 2002 -- A
prolonged drought has seriously affected agricultural and
livestock production in Eritrea this year - threatening the
lives of more than a million people, the UN Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) said in a
joint report issued this week.
Rome-based agencies say that rainfall has been poor since
October 2001 with almost total failure of the March-June azmera
rains and the late onset of June-September kremti rains ,
threatening the food security situation of thousands of farmers
and pastoralists who make up most of Eritrea's working
The cereal harvest - forecast
at 74 000 tonnes - is expected to be 60 percent below the
average of the last ten years. It will cover only about 15
percent of Eritrea's food requirement instead of the
average 40-50 percent. The agencies warned that international
assistance will be needed to cover a shortfall of 283 000
tonnes, after taking into account anticipated foreign aid and
The FAO/WFP report is
based on a two-week joint crop and food supply assessment
mission conducted in late August, a month after the Eritrean
Government declared a national drought emergency.
The report says that due to pervasive poverty, all of
Eritrea is susceptible to food insecurity. However, the
drought-prone regions of Northern Red Sea, Southern Red Sea and
many parts of Anseba are particularly vulnerable.
The current poor agricultural season could not have
come at a worse time. Eritrea is just recovering from a
devastating border war with neighbouring Ethiopia. A large
number of people, including farmers, are still displaced and
thousands of soldiers are yet to be demobilised. Furthermore,
the continuing resettlement of Eritrean refugees returning from
Sudan is an extra strain on the country's resources.
The border conflict with Ethiopia has also
rendered unusable an estimated 12 000 hectares in Debub and most
of the sub-region of Lalai Gash in Gash Barka because of
unexploded landmines. Conscription to military service has also
depleted the agricultural workforce in many areas. This has led
to an increasing number of households being headed by women.
Besides agriculture, most Eritreans earn a
living through casual work. However, due to national
conscription, there is an absence of younger men engaged in
normal productive activities, such as ploughing and weeding, and
this is exacerbating food insecurity at the household level.
Since the conflict with Ethiopia
(1998-2000), war-affected populations displaced within Gash
Barka and Debub Regions, as well as some of the Eritreans
deported from Ethiopia, have had limited, or no means of
accessing food, and are extremely vulnerable.
FAO and WFP are particularly concerned for the more
than one million most vulnerable people (about a third of the
country's 3.3 million inhabitants) who will require 140 000
tons of food in 2003. However, the report adds: "other
populations may also need food assistance before the end of
2003, depending on cereal, water and pasture availability and
cereal prices later in the year." The agencies say
emergency food aid will be required at least until the harvest
at the end of next year, in order to prevent loss of human life,
destitution, liquidation of minimal productive assets and
Pastoralists have also
been seriously affected. The number of livestock, mainly goats,
sheep and cattle, has diminished in some districts by up to 20
percent from their 2001 levels. There is a lack of pasture for
grazing in most areas of the country.
agencies add that emergency support to crop and livestock
production is also urgently needed to revive production capacity
for next year. This support should include the distribution of
seeds for cereal production, the provision of supplementary feed
and vaccines for cattle to cover for possible outbreaks of
stress-induced diseases, with training for vaccinators.
The report says that while emergency food
aid needs in Eritrea during 2003 will be extensive, it should be
noted that in many areas, there is a risk of people developing
an over-reliance on food aid with the expectation that this
assistance will be provided on a regular basis.
The agencies say: "this is proving
destructive to some traditional coping strategies, and creating
a vicious cycle that can lead to dependency. Therefore, it is
critical that emergency food aid be provided only to those who
cannot survive or will become destitute without it".
But the report also notes that domestic production in Eritrea,
even in good years, is insufficient to meet demand, and the
country relies heavily on food imports, including aid.
FAO is the lead agency in the United Nations system
for agriculture, forestry, fisheries and rural development.
Since it was founded in 1945, FAO has worked to alleviate
poverty and hunger by promoting agricultural development and the
pursuit of food security.
WFP is the United
Nations' front-line agency in the fight against global
hunger. In 2001, WFP fed more than 77 million people in 82
countries including most of the world's refugees and
internally displaced people.
School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious
meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global
campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million
undernourished children are educated.