Category: "Food Shortage"

Amid government denials, Eritreans flee harsh drought

September 1st, 2011

Amid government denials, Eritreans flee harsh drought


SHIRE, Ethiopia
- In Ethiopia's Endabaguna refugee camp, rows of gaunt Eritreans clad in rubber sandals give vent to their exasperation after days of trekking and dodging soldiers in an attempt to escape failed crops, hunger and an autocratic government.

Over 12 million people across the Horn of Africa are struggling from the region's worst drought in decades, but secretive Eritrea is the only country to deny it has been affected by the crisis.

"This year I farmed, but there was lack of rain. I don't know what's going to happen, only God knows," said Mehreteab, a refugee.

He escaped from the army, risking death or jail if caught crossing the heavily militarized border, leaving his wife and three children behind.

"There is no food and no grain in the home," he said. "I don't have any idea what's going to happen to them."

Camps in northern Ethiopia receive about 900 refugees every month from Eritrea, one of the region's most isolated countries.

A former colony of Italy and then part of Ethiopia, Eritrea fought a 30-year war with Ethiopia and only gained independence in 1991.

A subsequent border conflict with Ethiopia from 1998-2000 still simmers. Former rebel leader Issaias Afewoki, who has been in power since 1991 without elections, has cracked down on all dissidents and severely restricted press and religious freedom.

The majority of those arriving in the Ethiopian camps are young men escaping conscription, which forces men above 16 to serve in the military for decades on minimal pay.

The UN recently called for tighter economic sanctions after releasing a report linking Eritrea to a failed bomb plot at the African Union.

According to satellite imagery from the weather monitoring group FEWSNET, rainfall in parts of Eritrea this year has been "below average" - less than 10 per cent of normal levels in some areas.

Aid workers admit it is nearly impossible to know just how gravely the Eritrea is affected because access to information is so limited in the country where the only media is state-run.

"It's been a black hole for us, we don't know what's going on there," said Matthew Conway, spokesman for the UN humanitarian co-ordination office in Nairobi. "But that's not to say it's not happening."

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has said she is "deeply concerned" that Eritrea is facing extreme hunger, and urged the government to allow humanitarian access.

"The people of Eritrea who most likely are suffering the very same food shortages that we're seeing throughout the region are being left to starve," Susan Rice told reporters in New York.

And much like other countries in the region, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, Eritrea is vulnerable to increased food prices, exacerbating the crisis.

According to the UN agriculture agency, global food prices jumped 33 per cent in the last year.

"High international prices affected every country in the world, so from that you can assume Eritrea is affected," said Shukri Ahmed, an economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Fiercely self-reliant Eritrea stopped sending market information to FAO about three years ago, Ahmed said, so it is impossible to know how much food prices have risen in the country.

"Unfortunately, we don't have any information on the ground," he told AFP by phone from Rome.

Over half of Eritrea's food is imported, the FAO estimate, leaving it vulnerable to market fluctuations for staples such as sorghum and maize.

Eritrean refugee Berhane, 35, said the cost of food has surged in recent years, though wages have remained the same.

Intermittent work as a labourer earned him about $5 per day. But the cost of grain is about $3 per kilo and a sheep is about $170, more than he could make in a month, he told AFP.

"How is someone with no money or daily work supposed to buy this?" he asked. "It is too expensive."

Facing steep food costs, he relied on a small plot of land to feed his family. But the rains were two months late this year and his harvest failed.

"The government doesn't do anything. Nothing. There are no rations," he told AFP.

The Eritrean authorities deny the country is facing food scarcity.

"This nonsense about a 'hidden famine' in Eritrea is utterly false," the Eritrea's information ministry said in an online statement last week.

Instead, Asmara claims last year's harvest was the best in a decade, while state run media heap praise on government-run food security programs.

But refugee Gebrielxavier, 25, said this is not true. He left Eritrea last November because his crop failed, he could not find work and his family went hungry.

"We couldn't live. We were famished," he said. "And the government? It did nothing."

He is now running a cafÈ in the refugee camp, where he earns less than $2 a day and relies on UN food rations, but says he is still better off.

"I got my freedom," he said.

Ethiopia, Kenya better 'prepared' for food crisis: IFRC

August 27th, 2011

Ethiopia, Kenya better 'prepared' for food crisis: IFRC

— The Ethiopian-born secretary-general of the Red Cross said his native country is better "prepared" to handle Africa's worst drought in decades than it was when millions died of starvation in the 1980s.

"Twenty years ago, it was terrible," recalled Bekele Geleta, secretary-general of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, who was working for the Geneva-based humanitarian group then.

Now, he said in an interview with reporters, "governments are much more responsive ... much better prepared".

The United Nations said Friday that it was still one billion dollars (690 million euros) short of the 2.4 billion dollars that is needed to provide food and other aid to 12.5 million people in the Horn of Africa, where tens of thousands have already died.

On Thursday African countries and donors pledged more than $350 million at a fund-raiser in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Read More from AFP

Ethiopia to Import 300,000 Tons of Wheat to Build Reserves

August 27th, 2011

Ethiopia to Import 300,000 Tons of Wheat to Build Reserves

Aug. 25 (Bloomberg)
-- Ethiopia will import 300,000 metric tons of wheat for reserves and to assure food supply amid drought, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said.

The milling wheat, a variety used to make bread, has already been bought and will now be shipped, Berhane Hailu, the manager of the state-owned Ethiopian Grain Trade Enterprise said in an in interview from Addis Ababa.

The prime minister was speaking in Addis Ababa, the capital, at the opening of an African Union fund raising conference for the food crisis in the Horn of Africa in the city. The worst drought in 60 years in the region has left 12.5 million people, including 4.57 million in Ethiopia, in need of assistance, the United Nations says. There is a funding shortage of $1.4 billion for aid, the African Union said yesterday.

Southern Ethiopia on brink of food crisis

August 19th, 2011

Southern Ethiopia on brink of food crisis

Malnourished children are flocking into feeding centers in this forested corner of southern Ethiopia after a drought in East Africa extended into this normally fertile region.

While the famine in southern Somalia has grabbed headlines, southern Ethiopia is teetering on the brink of a food crisis. The Ethiopian government says 250,000 people need food aid amid what the United Nations says is the worst drought in 60 years. An aid organization and agricultural officials say the number of people who need emergency food aid in Ethiopia is bigger, around 700,000.

Read more: From The San Francisco Chronicle

'Green drought' hides hunger in Ethiopia

August 19th, 2011

'Green drought' hides hunger in Ethiopia

-- Images of Ethiopia's leafy, green vegetation may not match everyone's idea of what a drought should look like but this is the other face of the catastrophe affecting millions in the region.

Long-anticipated rains may have fallen in parts of this landlocked country in the Horn of Africa, but they came too late to produce desperately needed crops.

"People are facing a serious food shortage, even though they're surrounded by greenery," said David Throp from children's development organization Plan International in Ethiopia.

"This year, the rains that allow seeds to germinate and crops to start to grow did not come. As a result, families were not able to harvest crops when they normally do," he continued.

The World Food Program (WFP) says it is assisting 3.7 million people in Ethiopia, mostly affected by drought, with up to 15 million people affected in the Horn of Africa as a whole.

Read More from CNN