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Five consecutive years of drought contributed to severe food shortages in Eritrea before rains finally fell in 2005, but the situation of children and women remains very precarious. The delivery of humanitarian assistance has been hindered by international political disputes and by taxes imposed on aid by the government. A simmering dispute with Ethiopia (known as “no peace–no war”) has led to increased security risks such as attacks on civilians and newly laid landmines.
Issues facing children in Eritrea
- More than 10 per cent of children under age five are severely underweight. The autumn 2005 harvest was expected to provide help relieve food shortages, but 2.2 million Eritreans (two thirds of the population) still require emergency food assistance.
- More than half of pregnant women are anaemic. The percentage of families consuming iodized salt has fallen to only 68 per cent.
- Access to clean water and basic sanitation has also declined significantly in recent years. Diarrhoeal diseases are a major cause of under-five mortality.
- The first case of polio since 1996 was reported in April 2005, prompting several immunization campaigns that reached 96 per cent of the population, including 400,000 children.
- The HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is relatively low at 2.7 per cent. Young women in urban areas are considered to be at greatest risk.
- Half of school-age children, mostly girls, do not attend school.
- Some 50,000 people—70 per cent of them women and children—remain displaced by the conflict with Ethiopia. Meanwhile, the return of 30,000 internally displaced persons to their villages has strained basic services.
Activities and results for children
- Distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets to 60 per cent of the population prevented an outbreak of malaria in 2005.
- Infant, under-five and maternal mortality rates have all declined substantially over the past decade.
- UNICEF and its partners provided monthly food supplements to 22,000 malnourished women and children in 2005.
- Desperately needed rainfall allowed UNICEF to shift its focus from providing emergency water supplies to creating permanent access to clean water and sanitation for 57,000 people.
- The government has partnered with UNICEF on an innovative programme to ensure that 100,000 girls complete primary school in three target regions.
- The government has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and agreed to the optional protocols forbidding the sale of children, child prostitution, child pornography and the use of child soldiers.
- UNICEF and its partners provided mine-risk education to nearly 50,000 people (more than half of them children) in highly mined areas.