That Eritrea has been hit by el Nino and is suffering terribly is a tragedy.
The fact that this was denied by President Isaias Afwerki is a scandal.
In January 2016, when the first indications of the scale of the drought was becoming clear he said this:
In view of the harvest shortfall that has affected the whole Horn of Africa region, President Isaias stated that the country will not face any crisis in spite of reduced agricultural output,” the information ministry said, after he was interviewed by state-run media.
The key sentence is the last one: The UN warned about the dangers of the drought in November 2015 – two months before Isaias’s complacent remarks.
His statements were underlined by his ministers.
Yemane Gebreab, the president’s key adviser declared: “So far, the situation is normal, and we believe we can manage with our own resources.”
It is this complacency that is unforgivable. It has compounded the suffering of the Eritrean people.
And it is not as if it was difficult to see what was taking place.
I published the evidence that was easily available on this blog [see below]. Why did no-one in the Eritrean government act in time, instead of allowing the people to suffer so badly?
Despite government denials there is growing concern that Eritrea’s people face a severe crisis. This would be far plainer (as it is in Ethiopia) if it was not for the clampdown on the activities of humanitarian organisations.
Below is the evidence classifying Eritrea as a ‘severe humanitarian crisis’ from a new website: ACAPS
The result is clear: One million ‘food insecure’ and 15,000 children ‘expected to require treatment for severe acute malnutrition in 2016.’
The Eritrean state severely restricts the access of humanitarian actors inside the country. Very little is known about the humanitarian needs inside the country, however UNICEF estimates that 1.2 million people are in need. UN operations have been restricted to health, water supply and sanitation. An average of 5,000 Eritreans per month are thought to flee the country.
According to FAO in 2013, over 60% of the Eritrean population was reported to be undernourished between 2011 and 2013. 15,000 children are expected to require treatment for severe acute malnutrition in 2016.
So the truth is finally in the public domain. Eritrea is, indeed, facing a drought and needs international aid.
The UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien has made the announcement as part of funding for what are described as “severely underfunded aid operations in six neglected emergencies.”
“An allocation of $2 million will support humanitarian partners in Eritrea in responding to current needs due to arid conditions and poor rains. Additionally, gaps in health care, water, sanitation and hygiene services will be addressed.”
When I reported on the drought and hardship that it has brought to Eritrea earlier this year there were furious denials – especially on social media sites.
Yet the evidence was clear. Drought is no respecter of borders. El Nino is not caused by any government.
What is tragic is that it has taken all this time for the Eritrean authorities to finally accept this reality and to accept international aid.
Even now, Eritrean official websites publish stories about the difficulties Ethiopia is facing, rather than reporting to their own people on Eritrea’s own problems.
Drought is a natural disaster. Attempting to hide is it a scandal.
Despite official denials from President Isaias that there is any food crisis and a rejection of aid, the UN has – quietly – revealed the extent of the suffering.
This is an extract from the latest UN assessment, dated February 2016. Eritrea is classified as a ‘Severe Humanitarian Crisis’.
“According to satellite-based monitoring, there are significant soil moisture deficits in most eastern coastal areas, impacting food security and livelihoods (OCHA 10/11/2015). El Niño weather patterns are contributing to drought conditions (UN 07/01/2016).
Since the government of Eritrea has not released data on food security for the year and restricts access, it is difficult to know the full impact and scope of the drought (NS 11/01/2016).
However, FAO reports that the coastal areas of Foro, Gel’alo and Massawa have had almost no rain in June and July, and that rainfall throughout the country was 30-35% below average (FAO 29/01/2016).
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki has denied any food crisis and continues to reject UN food aid (AFP 23/01/2016).
It is estimated that Eritrea produces only 60% of the food it needs, and markets appear to be dysfunctional. Due to extensive national service, farmers are routinely absent during harvest periods (Economist 10/03/2014). In addition, local food and fuel prices are likely to be high, putting severe pressure on household coping mechanisms.
According to FAO in 2013, over 60% of the Eritrean population was reported to be undernourished between 2011 and 2013.”