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Thursday, 25 July, 2002, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
Eritrea issues drought warning
Eritrean refugee (archive pic)
Eritreans could be facing a major emergency
A severe drought in Eritrea is threatening to cause famine and a human catastrophe, the Eritrean Government has warned.

Rains have failed, preventing farmers from planting crops to feed the country's 3.7 million people, according to a statement issued by the Eritrean Embassy in Kenya.


Eritrea hereby alerts the international community to a looming humanitarian crisis and appeals for an urgent response

Eritrean Government statement
The Eritrean Relief and Rehabilitation Commission appealed to the international community to act urgently.

Drought is also threatening food supplies in parts of neighbouring Ethiopia.

The drought had hit the country as it was "struggling to heal the wounds of the four-year border dispute" with Ethiopia, the commission said.

Over a million people were suffering acute shortages of water, food and other basic necessities, it said.

Scattered showers

The Eritrean Government has said that this year's drought was exceptionally bad even for Eritrea, which is made up largely of arid mountains and plains.

The lack of sufficient rain, other than a few scattered showers, had prevented the planting of crops and had turned pastureland for livestock completely barren, the Eritrean statement said.

Eritrean soldier
Resources were diverted to the war with Ethiopia

The Relief and Rehabilitation Commission said that livestock were at serious risk from the lack of grazing and water.

"The entirety of Eritrea's farming population will thus face the threat of a serious famine disaster.

"The Government of the state of Eritrea hereby alerts the international community to a looming humanitarian crisis and appeals for an urgent response to avert impending human catastrophe."

Resources diverted

In Ethiopia, the UN Emergencies Unit (UN-EUE) said the first signs of malnutrition were being reported from the Afar region and other areas in the north-east.

The UN has urged "all agencies" to plan for emergency assistance after weather experts predicted below-normal rainfall for Afar, saying a "major emergency" could be just weeks away.

In 2000, the UN launched an appeal for 25,000 tonnes of food for Eritrea to feed more than 200,000 people affected by a drought and by the war with Ethiopia over the border area of Badme.

At the time of the appeal, UN special envoy Catherine Bertini warned that that the conflict with Ethiopia had resulted in both countries "diverting huge sums of money and resources to the war effort" rather than to drought-relief.

The ability of the government to deal with the current drought is now affected by the efforts to recover from the human and economic consequences of the four year war.

The Eritrean appeal comes as leading British aid agencies launched an appeal to help avert disaster in Southern Africa.

Agencies are warning that seven countries in the south face a potentially catastrophic famine - with as many as 14 million people at risk of starvation.

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 ON THIS STORY
Alex Last reporting for BBC Focus on Africa
"The Eritrean statement is an early warning to the international community"

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11 Jul 02 | Africa
06 Jun 02 | Africa
29 Jun 02 | Country profiles
22 Feb 02 | Africa
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