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Years of drought put children and women in danger

© UNICEF Eritrea/2005/Johansson
A young boy who is receiving treatment at one of Eritrea’s therapeutic feeding centres. The centre is managed by the Eritrean Ministry of Health and supported by UNICEF.

ASMARA, Eritrea, 9 March 2005 - The people of Eritrea are facing a severe food shortage as the country endures its fourth successive year of drought. Hunger and malnutrition are especially threatening to the lives of children and pregnant or lactating women. Extreme poverty and the incomplete peace process with neighbouring Ethiopia - sometimes referred to as ‘no war, no peace’ - are making the situation even worse.

“Eritrea is a country with two-thirds of the population dependent on food aid and assistance from outside,” explains UNICEF Representative in Eritrea Christian Balslev-Olesen. “Because of the ongoing drought, because there is no progress on the peace process with Ethiopia, and because of the country’s very high level of poverty, it’s going to be extremely critical from May to next harvest, which normally would be by the end of this year.”

© UNICEF Eritrea/2005/Johansson
Children collecting water at a UNICEF-supported water point, at Adi Chomai, Eritrea.

UNICEF says that the international community needs to act now in order to prevent a humanitarian disaster. “If we can’t keep the school feeding and the supplementary feeding - which is going on right now - we will soon have a situation where more and more children will be coming to health posts and hospitals to be treated for severe malnutrition, which will require expensive interventions. It is in the best interest of the child and from an economic point of view, more effective - and can save more lives - if we act now to maintain the present ‘less expensive’ intervention,” emphasized Mr. Balslev-Olesen.

Because of the long war with Ethiopia, more than 40 per cent of the households in Eritrea are female headed. “Not having had harvest during the past years and the loss of livestock means there are absolutely no resources left in many areas of the country. Food prices on the market are going up and there is inflation,” warns Mr. Balslev-Olesen.

Children and pregnant or lactating women are especially vulnerable. Malnutrition among women of reproductive age results in poor birth outcome. Cases of low birth weight have already been reported. Mr. Balslev-Olesen comments: “It’s a very serious situation. It has long term consequence on children’s welfare, and an immediate impact on the wellbeing of new born babies.”

UNICEF is supporting supplementary feeding programmes for the children and women of Eritrea and has asked for immediate help from other international agencies. UNICEF and the World Food Programme are supplying fresh water for 120,000 people.




9 March 2005:
UNICEF Representative in Eritrea Christian Balslev-Olesen says that the international community needs to act now in order to prevent a humanitarian disaster in drought-plagued Eritrea.
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