Agency on standby as famine approaches Ethiopia and Eritrea

 Ethiopia and Eritrea are facing severe food shortages that could affect over 15 million people across the two countries, it has emerged this week. Crops across the region have been devastated by the failure of the first or 'belg' rains and the late arrival of the main rains. A joint assessment by the United Nations and Ethiopian government of the severity of the situation will commence at the beginning of November but initial indications suggest that a worst-case scenario could see around 14.3 million people affected in Ethiopia and a further one million needing assistance in Eritrea. This figure is roughly equivalent to the number of people who will need food aid across seven countries in Southern Africa. Even the most optimistic predictions estimate that around ten million people in Ethiopia and Eritrea will need help by the beginning of next year. CAFOD is on standby to start helping partners run relief programmes. "Whilst we do not know the full extent of the food crisis yet, there is no doubt that there have been widespread crop failures across both countries," said Les Gunbie, the agency's team leader for Ethiopia/Eritrea. "We are already getting reports of unusual migration patterns in the east of the country, as people search for alternative pastures for their livestock." A report sent to CAFOD by the Catholic Bishops of Eritrea states: "Priests and nuns on their movements in all the regions and sub-regions of Eritrea, on their pastoral duties are witnessing the ugly faces of famine. People have already started to frequent Church and congregational doors for a meal and hand-outs." Both countries are still struggling to recover from a severe drought in 1999/2000 affecting 10 million people which coincided with the end of a bitterly fought border dispute.

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