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UN Expresses Concern about Food Availability in Eritrea, Ethiopia - 2003-06-26

U.N. humanitarian officials say another drought and an unusual type of famine are wreaking devastation in Eritrea and Ethiopia.

More than two million people in Eritrea are suffering from the country's third drought in four years. The most recent crisis affects an estimated two-thirds of the nation's population.

Carolyn McAskie, the United Nations' deputy humanitarian coordinator, said that less than 19 percent of food aid pledged by the international community has arrived. Sixty percent of the needy are receiving rations, and those are only partial rations.

"The seriousness of the situation is very much because the communities have had no opportunity to recoup or to recover before the next drought comes along," she stressed.

Deforestation and drought in Eritrea means there is very little natural water available. Ms. McAskie says without an adequate international response to Eritrea's crisis, there will not be enough money to fund water projects and sanitation, causing long-term concerns for the country's future.

Overall, the situation in Ethiopia is comparatively better. There, Ms. McAskie says fewer people are affected by the drought because government actions and the international community's response to the U.N.'s appeal for humanitarian assistance have been good.

But an unusual type of crop failure called the "Green Famine" has killed thousands of children in selected regions of southern Ethiopia. The Green Famine exists in parts of the country which have had rain recently, but where the crops are behind schedule, delayed because of the earlier drought.

"You drive through the region and it's green, the crops are growing. But the crops are late and the communities there have suffered from a massive drop in income because of the drop in coffee prices and so household capability is drastically reduced," explained Ms. McAskie. "What this means is that we have come across large pockets of extremely vulnerable children who have been suffering year after year and for whom this particular famine has tipped them over the edge."

A recently-launched Ethiopian government initiative called the Coalition on Food Security aims to prepare against future droughts. But since that plan will take some time to implement, Ms. McAskie recommends continuing humanitarian aid to both Eritrea and Ethiopia for several years after this drought ends.