The Socio-political Situation
Eritrea experiences annual food-production shortages due to recurrent drought and exclusive dependence on unpredictable rainfall. Nearly two thirds of the population relies on rain-fed agriculture and pastoralism. The harsh climate and rudimentary farming methods mean Eritrea can only produce about 60 per cent of its total annual cereal requirements (estimated at 650,000 MT) in a good year. This may drop to about 30 per cent in a poor season. In 2006, Eritrea stopped receiving food aid and began to rely on food imports to bridge its annual cereal production gap.
A 2003 survey found that 66 per cent of the population of nearly 5 million were unable to secure sufficient food or essential goods and services. An estimated 37 per cent live in extreme poverty. While accurate information is scarce, conditions appear to have deteriorated since then. The country is ranked 165 out of 182 on the Human Development Index (HDI). A HDI report estimated that over 50 per cent of Eritreans were living below the national poverty line between 2000 and 2006. In 2008, a drop in agricultural output due to drought coincided with a spike in global food and fuel prices, underlining the country’s economic fragility.
Eritrea’s past conflicts with Ethiopia have had a profound effect on the family unit. A high number of households in rural areas are headed by females. Tense relations with Ethiopia over the last decade have seen manpower and other resources prioritized for national defence at the expense of other sectors. The critical shortage of a skilled civilian workforce and funds for the public sector has slowed economic progress.
The legacy of conflict continues to stall agriculture as large fertile areas remain contaminated with landmines, especially in the former Temporary Security Zone (TSZ). According to the Landmine Impact Survey of Eritrea (2002 - 2004), approximately 655,000 people live in communities affected by landmines and unexploded ordnances (UXOs).
National security concerns have contributed to severe macroeconomic imbalances, high inflation, foreign-exchange shortages and unsustainable public debt. This situation is expected to persist in 2011-12, despite the onset of industrial-scale mining (EIU: Country Report, September 2011).
Eritrea’s relationship with the international community deteriorated following the latter’s apparent failure to protect Eritrean autonomy in 1962. This position has been entrenched with international inaction in the face of Ethiopia’s non-compliance with the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) ruling and certain peace terms agreed in Algiers in December 2000. This poor relationship with international counterparts, coupled with an aggressive national self-reliance policy, has restricted the scope for humanitarian and development assistance in the country.
The Humanitarian Strategy and Response
Eritrea is expected to remain vulnerable to natural hazards, especially recurrent drought, given its unpredictable rainfall patterns and food-deficit status. The unresolved border dispute with Ethiopia remains an additional barrier to economic progress.
Since 2005, the Eritrean Government policy on humanitarian assistance has shifted to one that emphasizes self-reliance, cash for work, and investment in long-term food security programmes rather than food for work or free food distribution. Measures taken since include:
Introducing an NGO proclamation in 2005 requiring that an NGO must have at least $2 million in its account to operate in the country, and prohibiting NGOs from acting as implementing partners for UN agencies.
Dissolving the Eritrea Refugee and Rehabilitation Commission, the Government entity responsible for coordinating humanitarian assistance and its absorption into the Ministry of Labour and Human Welfare.
Opting out of the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) in 2006.
Investing in long-term food-security programmes and the fisheries and mining sectors as a long-term strategy for weaning the country off short-term emergency/humanitarian aid.
The main vulnerable groups identified include small-scale rural farmers, pastoralists, recently resettled internally displaced people, refugees and asylum-seekers, the urban poor, the disabled and people living with HIV/AIDS. Women and children are typically the most disadvantaged.
UNICEF reports significant deterioration of the nutritional status of children under age 5 in recent years. A rapid middle-upper-arm circumference (MUAC) screening conducted in April-May 2010 found an acute malnutrition rate of 8.3 per cent. Monthly admissions to therapeutic feeding centres have increased by 40 per cent between January and May 2011, compared with 2009. UNICEF and WHO continue to support over 200 therapeutic feeding centres in the country. This level of malnutrition suggests persistent food insecurity at the household level. Flexible approaches to assisting are required if agencies are to meet these critical needs without contradicting official policy.
Eritrea hosts 4,000 Somali refugees who have fled the crisis in their home country and are prevented from integrating locally. According to UNHCR, the global acute malnutrition rate among Somali refugee children under age 5 in Emkulu camp was 23 per cent (November 2009). There is a need for continued provision of food aid and other social services to these refugees.
The goal of the 2012-2013 Humanitarian Strategy is to assist the Government to meet the critical humanitarian needs of women, men, boys and girls at risk, and to enhance its response capacity. Particular focus is on priority areas identified by the Government, namely emergency health and nutrition, water supply and sanitation.
The objectives of the strategy are as follows:
Health and Nutrition
Supporting the Ministry of Health in its efforts to reduce the avoidable morbidity and mortality due to acute malnutrition and schistosomiasis control interventions. Beneficiaries include 118,033 children under age 5 in the Southern Red Sea and Gash Barka regions targeted for nutrition interventions; and 113,000 children under age 16 in Mandefera and Debub targeted for schistosomiasis control interventions (WHO). The large number of under-nourished children clearly points to acute food insecurity at the household level. This would normally be addressed through free food distribution. However, WFP has not been operational in Eritrea since 2006 following the Government’s integration of 64,500 MT of WFP food aid into its cash-for-work programme.
Priorities include nationwide vitamin A distribution, rapid nutrition assessment using mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC), provision of water and sanitation in locations where IDPs/expellees have returned or have been resettled; and supporting therapeutic and community-based supplementary feeding centres in Southern Red Sea and Garsh Barka regions. The target beneficiaries are more than 340,000 children under age 5 (UNICEF).
Provision of Food Aid to Refugees
According to the Office of Refugee Affairs (UNHCR’s implementing partner), the global acute malnutrition rate among Somali refugees in Emkulu camp is 13.4 per cent. Given that WFP has no operations in Eritrea, UNHCR has a responsibility to provide life-saving basic and complementary food commodities to these refugees.
Support the national food security strategy (through supporting the Ministry of Agriculture) in the following areas: strengthening early warning systems and risk analysis; developing water harvesting and conservation farming methods; developing diversified farm-production models including integrated livestock and fisheries; and strengthening the extension services and seed systems (FAO).
Coordination and Support Services
Despite the constraints related to access, OCHA will support the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) through strategy development, contingency planning, advocacy, information management and prioritization of/reporting on CERF resources. All projects in Eritrea are nationally executed. Apart from occasional gaps, these partners have well-established achievement and accountability records. The UN agencies (UNDP, UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA, FAO, UNAIDS, UNHCR) and their Government counterparts periodically conduct monitoring and evaluation missions to project sites. Rather than promote inter-agency coordination, the Government prefers to deal with partners on a bilateral basis. The UNCT has set up thematic/sector working groups to ensure that assistance to various parts of the country is coordinated.
Eritrea is expected to face ongoing humanitarian challenges due to its vulnerability to adverse weather conditions and recurrent droughts. The situation has been exacerbated by a lack of information on the overall humanitarian situation and an official Government policy that favours development over humanitarian action. No international NGOs are expected to remain in the country by the end of 2011. The reduced number of humanitarian partners coupled with the absence of a credible resource mobilization plan will leave a significantly reduced response capacity in-country in 2012.
The possible scenarios include:
The unresolved border dispute with Ethiopia will continue to divert resources to national defence, negatively affecting the country’s socio-economic development.
The 2011-2012 agricultural season harvest is expected to remain below average due to erratic Azmera rains (March - May) in the highlands and a late start of the Krimiti rain season (June - September) at the beginning of August, instead of mid-June. The Bahry (coastal) rains (October - February) have been erratic in recent years. The current prediction is for persistent water scarcity, poor pastures especially in the arid areas of the country and a major food gap in 2012.
Local food and fuel prices are likely to remain high, putting severe pressure on vulnerable groups’ coping mechanisms.
An overall decline in funding opportunities for Eritrea.
UNDP estimates that more than 11,000 displaced/expellee households (64 per cent of whom are female headed) and 2,500 households of war- and drought-affected families returned or were resettled in 2008. Due to the unpredictable weather conditions, these households remain among the most vulnerable in Eritrea and will require sustained support.
The risks revolve around unpredictable Government policies, including:
Uncertainty surrounding UN and NGO programming beyond 2011/2012.
Official denial of the existence of any humanitarian needs in the country.
Difficulty in determining needs in the country due to access constraints.
The Government’s policy of self-reliance is at odds with international aid modalities. Hence, the level of funding for humanitarian and development activities is expected to remain low.
Household Living Standards Measurement Survey, National Statistics and Evaluation Office, 2003
Human Development Report 2009, UNDP
Human Development Index 2009 – Annex I
2008 State of the Worlds children UNICEF
Landmine Impact Survey – Eritrea 2002 –2004 – most of the Landmine Impacted Communities are located in Debub, Gash Barka, Anseba and Seminawi Keih Bahri (Northern Red Sea)