|© Gattoni/UNICEF Italian Natcom/2003|
|Woman going to the water-well with plastic containers in her hand.|
ASMARA, 31-5-2003 (UNICEF)
The small centre for malnourished children in Hagaz, at the border of Gash Barka and Anseba regions about 100 kilometres (60 miles) northwest of Asmara, hosts dozens of children and some adults. They are all victims of the present drought, Eritrea's worst in a decade.
This is a traditionally fertile region, with seasonal rains. But last year no rain fell at all, and the drought, combined with the long-lasting effects of the war with Ethiopia (1998-2000), displaced thousands of people in this region. The result is growing pressure on the few water sources that still exist. There were no crops at all last year in the area and in nearby Debub.
Some 2.3 million Eritreans - two thirds of the population - are affected by the drought, in the face of which there has been only limited support from the international donor community, absorbed in other more visible emergencies. Traditional mechanisms of solidarity helped people to cope with the problem for quite a while, but now food stocks are empty, and people in many areas are facing an absolute lack of water and food.
28 per cent of children in Eritrea are already malnourished, and children and old people are beginning to die. The people try to resist, in the habitual Eritrean way, in silence and in dignity: this is not a place where misery and death are flaunted. But poor statistics and the isolation of many areas can hide the true extent of what is an extremely serious problem.
Malnourished children area receiving therapeutic feeding thanks to UNICEF's supplies of therapeutic milk (F 75 and F 100). In many cases the mothers also need to be treated for chronic malnutrition. UNICEF is supporting this centre in Hagaz and 20 other centres not only with therapeutic milk, but also with supplies and medicines. UNICEF is also supporting the local production of DMK (Dhurra-Milk-Chikpeas), the Eritrean version of UNIMIX, produced in a local firm in Dekamere.
Because of old machinery only 15 metric tons a day can be produced. UNICEF is trying to assist with new machinery and spare parts, but lack of funding is a major constraint. UNICEF also supplies nutritional food such as BP5 and micro-nutrients as follow-up assistance after mothers and children leave the nutritional therapeutic centres, and these products are also distributed to communities at risk to prevent acute malnutrition. Five dollars per month can provide the food supplies needed to prevent acute malnutrition in a little boy or girl, but for intensive therapeutic feeding and recovery, an average of 115 dollars are needed for every acutely malnourished child. Not too much to save the life of a child.