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Red Cross Appeals for  Aid for Eritrea to Avoid Food Crisis - 2004-02-07

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says aid for nearly two million Eritreans must come now, if a catastrophic food crisis is to be avoided.

The federation sent an assessment mission to Eritrea at the end of last year. It says the consequences of three years of continuous drought are painfully evident. In addition, the country is still recovering from a lengthy border war with Ethiopia, which has displaced thousands of people.

Red Cross relief officer Josse Gillijns says the federation will concentrate its assistance on the Anseba Zoba region, where malnutrition rates have reached an alarming 20 percent. He says people are worn down from years of food shortages and lack of water.

"I believe that all these elements combined probably do increase levels of malnutrition, do increase water-borne diseases, in general weakens the health condition of the population," he said.

Mr. Gillijns says the federation has been supporting this community for years through the Eritrean Red Cross. He says the organization knows the community well, and prefers to work with these people, because it believes it can be most effective in assisting them.

"And hoping that in the course of this year, we would be able to not only get people through the worst period, but also afterwards, as we are planning to support them with seeds and tools, help them to address their own vulnerable situation," he said.

The international federation is appealing for nearly $4 million to provide emergency assistance for 50,000 people in Anseba Zoba over the next nine months, to help them survive until the next harvest.