The U.N. humanitarian representative for the Horn of Africa says Eritrea's government is holding onto almost 100,000 tons of donated relief food, some of which is rotting as people go hungry. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi the U.N. official has wrapped up a five-nation tour of drought-stricken East Africa.
Kjell Bondevik told reporters in Nairobi the Eritrean government's policy of limiting the amount of foreign food aid as a way of encouraging self-reliance is good in theory, and that with time and proper planning, could go far in improving Eritrea's food security situation.
But Bondevik says he is concerned about existing food aid that appears to be going to waste as the drought continues in the tiny Horn of Africa country.
"We are talking about 90-thousand tons in concrete warehouses," Bondevik says. "Some of this food is more fresh, more new, than other parts of it, but we are concerned, and therefore I raised it. It is a delicate issue. I was promised a report - we are looking forward to that - about how they (Eritrean government) have integrated these food stocks in the further plans. The warehouses are closed, and the government has the keys."
Bondevik says the government assured him that the food was being used in its food security programs.
In an earlier interview, Eritrean presidential spokesman Yemane Gebremeskel told VOA international aid efforts must fit in with the government's long-term food security strategy, which includes implementing water conservation, improving farming methods, and modernizing traditional agricultural techniques.
Bondevik made his remarks during a news conference signaling the end of his tour of Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya. He was investigating the drought situation, which the United Nations says directly threatens the lives of more than eight-million people and places more than 15 million people at risk.
The U.N. official says government policies and practices have made the situation worse.
For instance, in Kenya, some food relief meant for starving Kenyans was diverted by local government officials and sold in the market.
The humanitarian official tells VOA good governance is core to solving the problems of drought and hunger and shares his assessment of each country's governance challenges.
"Kenya, yes, corruption. Somalia, for many years without a normal political system," Bondevik says. "Eritrea, well, rather difficult working conditions for the humanitarian community, but I was welcomed back, that was important in itself. Let me say about Ethiopia that they have moved quicker, I believe, than some of the other countries in dealing with food security. They have developed the safety net program, which seems to work well."
He urged governments to implement programs and services to help the region's 25 million farmers and herders cope with the drought.
In early April, the U.N. launched a $443-million appeal to help eight million people affected by the drought in the Horn of Africa. To date, donors have pledged about $95 million.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed Bondevik as special humanitarian envoy in February in response to the recurring drought and food insecurity in the region.