[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Great Lakes
Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 November, 2003, 08:43 GMT
Eritrea's growing dependence on aid
By Jonah Fisher
BBC, Asmara

Earlier this year - in the wake of yet another drought there were dire predictions of a human catastrophe in Eritrea.

Nearly 90% of the country's food needs had been appealed for - and response rates were disappointingly poor.

Marti Ahtisaari
Donors were slow to help Eritrea
Yet there have been no reports of starvation.

Some $160m was needed to feed the 2.1 million said to be at risk.

A special envoy was despatched by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, the former Finland President Marti Ahtisaari, charged with raising awareness in the international community.

This week, on his second trip to Eritrea he said he was pleased by the improved response of the donor community "to avoid a major disaster".

Of course no-one is disappointed that a humanitarian disaster has not occurred - but behind the scenes some diplomats are questioning whether all the figures added up.

No wolf

UN Resident Humanitarian Coordinator Simon Nhongo denies that aid agencies exaggerated the problem.

"There was no question of crying wolf," he said.

"By February or March we had not got more than 20 or 25%, which was pretty low. Since then it has risen to 62%.

Eritrean soldier
Many young Eritreans are in the army, not the fields
"You don't have to see people starving on the streets or dying - it's the damage that happens because of the nutrition deficiencies."

But of course if the donors start questioning the figures it makes it harder to raise the money next time around.

In fact the 2004 appeal is just being launched. There has been rain this year but the harvest has still been disappointing.

It is expected that the amount asked for will be very similar to what was asked for this year - so why the lack of improvement?

One theory is that a lack of manpower to tend the fields has perpetuated the problem - Eritrea's standing army amounts to about 10% of the total population.

Eritrean Minister of Agriculture Arefaine Berhe says he feels the main problem is that "there is no lasting peace here and there is not the right environment for people to do their jobs".

But a recurring pattern of drought is becoming something Eritreans are getting used to - and so in many communities is a dependence on aid handouts.

For a proud country with a fierce sense of independence and self-reliance - the goal of finally feeding itself is still a distant one.

Ethiopia still needs aid
05 Sep 03  |  Africa
Horn peacekeepers feel the heat
30 Oct 03  |  Africa
Q&A: The Horn's bitter war
12 Apr 02  |  Africa
UN warns of Horn failure
18 Sep 03  |  Africa

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific