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UNICEF: Millions Need Emergency Aid in Zambia, Eritrea - 2003-02-06

The U.N. Childrens Fund is pleading for urgent assistance for millions of people suffering from drought and famine in Zambia and Eritrea.

UNICEF estimates 2.3 million people in Zambia are in need of emergency aid. It says the country is suffering from severe drought, economic depression, and an epidemic of HIV/AIDS which is tearing families apart.

The agency has asked for $3.4 million for Zambia aid. And UNICEF's Representative in the country, Stella Goings says providing food and emergency relief in the short term will not solve the problems.

"We are confronting a long-term crisis, but one that, nonetheless, threatens the survival of children, their health, their well-being and places vulnerable people at tremendous risk," she said. "It is not that everyone in a community has no food. But, there are family pockets, there are community groups within the society that are totally devoid, totally devastated with nothing to fall back on."

UNICEF says emergency assistance is also desperately needed for the Horn of Africa, especially for Eritrea. The Agency says 70 percent of the country's 2.3 million people face acute food and water shortages.

The agency says a recent appeal for nearly $11 million for Eritrea has netted only $760,000.

The UNICEF Representative in Eritrea, Christian Balslev-Olesen says the country will run out of food by April. He says even if donors were to send food to Eritrea now, it would not arrive in time.

"It takes us at least two to three months to get food from Europe," he explained. "It takes us four to six months to get food from North America or Asia into Eritrea. So, we are not going to meet the deadline in April when the country is running out of food and water."

"And, I do not dare to think what is happening if the war in Iraq is starting soon," he continued. "The Red Sea is going to be if not impossible, then very expensive to reach the ports of Eritrea."

Mr. Balslev-Olesen says food cannot be brought into Eritrea through neighboring Ethiopia and Sudan. He says the only possibility is to ship food through the Red Sea ports of Massawa and Assab.