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The BBC's Rageh Omaar
"The cost of this war is destruction and the threat of land mines in the future"
 real 28k

Friday, 19 May, 2000, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK
Humanitarian crisis looms in Eritrea
Refugee children
Thousands of displaced people were already living in the area
Eritrea fears a humanitarian crisis as more than 500,000 people flee advancing Ethiopian forces in the south-west of the country.

The conflict is likely to destroy the next harvest in the country's main food-producing region.

Infrastructure crucial to a region already hit by severe drought is being damaged or destroyed, and thousands of landmines pose a new threat near the front lines.

The crisis is overshadowing efforts to provide aid across the Horn of Africa region where about 10m people face the threat of starvation as a result of three years of failed rains.

Eritrean appeal

The Eritrean Government's Relief and Refugee Commission says 550,000 people are on the move, trying to escape the advancing Ethiopian army.

Refugee family
Aid is being sought for half a million people
It has appealed for international help both for them and for a further 350,000 people who it says are already affected by drought in the area.

"It is no less than a humanitarian crisis," said agency official Worku Tesfamichael.

World Food Programme Brenda Barton described the situation as "very serious".

"At the moment we are scrambling around to try and source the quantities and kinds of food we will need to sustain a very large population on the move," she said.

Emergency supplies

The UN's representative in Asmara, Simon Nhongo, said the Eritrean Government had asked the UN to help out in providing emergency supplies, such as tents, blankets, relief food and water storage facilities.

Eritrean army truck
Eritrea is sending reinforcements to the front
Western Eritrea is the nation's agricultural heartland, providing more than half the country's total agricultural production.

Normally, the land would be ploughed at this time of year in preparation for the rains which are expected in the next month.

The war has ruled out the possibility of a harvest, which means Eritrea will be dependent on international aid to feed at least half its population for months to come.

Refugees arrive in Sudan

Thousands of Eritreans have already fled into neighbouring Sudan.

Ron Redmond, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said it was estimated that between 6,000 and 20,000 Eritreans arrived in Sudan on Thursday, reportedly from the Tessenei area, just inside Eritrea.

He said they included Eritrean soldiers, who had been disarmed by the Sudanese army.

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See also:

17 May 00 | Media reports
War of words in the Horn
16 May 00 | Africa
More Eritreans rushed to front
16 May 00 | Africa
Arms flood to Horn conflict
18 May 00 | Africa
Asmara fears the worst
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