Hunger in Eritrea
Eritrea is an African country between Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti on the coast of the Red Sea. It is part of the geopolitical region in East Africa called the Horn of Africa or the Somali Peninsula. With a population of 6.21 million, according to The World Factbook, Eritrea remains one of the poorest countries on the continent, with a GDP of $2.37 billion.

Since its 30-year war for independence from Ethiopia ended in 1993, the dictatorial president Isaias Afwerki has run Eritrea. The government has not recognized any other political parties besides the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, which elected Afwerki in 1993. Afwerki serves as the head of government and the head of state, making both the executive and legislative decisions for the country.

As a result of the country’s sizable poverty rate—69%—and its totalitarian government, the Eritrean people are starving. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that more than 60% of the population does not receive enough nourishment. The following six facts about hunger in Eritrea illustrate the expanse and provide background for the debilitating hunger crisis in Eritrea.

6 Facts About Hunger in Eritrea

  1. Army Over Agriculture: The Eritrean government prioritizes defense over agricultural development, despite the widespread famine. All Eritreans, men and women, between the ages of 18 and 40 must enter indefinite national service, including compulsory military conscription. Conscription often lasts decades and extends far beyond 40 years old, despite formal Eritrean law limiting it to 18 months, according to Human Rights Watch. Citizens who could be contributing to the agricultural industry of Eritrea instead end up in military service. The food supply in Eritrea is largely dependent on food imports and aid because, according to the FAO, the contribution of agriculture to the trade balance is negative.
  2. COVID-19 Travel Ban: Not only does the Eritrean government neglect agricultural development, but it also lacks foreign trade. First, the nationwide lockdown in March 2020 limited all imported food. Then, the Eritrean government banned all domestic travel in December 2020, making informal trading and market selling impossible and exacerbating starvation.
  3. Family Farm to Family Table: According to The World Factbook, more than 80% of Eritreans work in subsistence agriculture, which is the act of farming just enough to feed one’s own family and leaving a little surplus for selling. Agriculture has little effect on the country’s economy because so little is left over, accounting for just 8% of the country’s GDP.
  4. Rejecting Aid: “Aspiring to be self-reliant,” as stated by the LA Times, the Eritrean government has ushered out aid programs, including the U.K.’s ACCORD, the U.S.’s Mercy Corps and Ireland’s Concern Worldwide. According to The New Humanitarian, the Eritrean government requested for the three international NGOs to stop operations and exit the country in 2006, having already expelled USAID in 2005.
  5. Russia-Ukraine War Effects: The Eastern European conflict has impacted food prices in Eastern Africa. Eritrea is especially vulnerable because it relies entirely on imports from Russia and Ukraine for wheat, in addition to soybeans and barley, according to the FAO. A deficit of these significant food resources continues to fuel widespread hunger across Eritrea.
  6. Child Malnutrition: The World Bank reports that child malnutrition is a tragic result of rampant hunger in Eritrea. One can calculate malnutrition using four factors: underweight, wasting, stunting and overweight, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). About 39.4% of children younger than five years old in Eritrea are underweight. About 14.6% of Eritrean children younger than five years old are wasting, which is the most severe form of malnutrition and results in an extremely low weight-to-height ratio. These children suffer from extremely weak immune systems, making them susceptible to disease and death. Furthermore, 52% of children younger than five years old experience stunting, which is a result of malnutrition that occurs when UNICEF defines a child as a “low height-for-age.” This inhibits children from harnessing their fullest physical and cognitive capability. Finally, more than half of all deaths of children younger than five years old are related to malnutrition. These large figures demonstrate how hunger in Eritrea has a detrimental effect on the young.

The Good News

The six facts about hunger in Eritrea featured above illustrate the rampant starvation, but luckily international aid organizations have not abandoned their cause, despite the government requesting their departure. UNICEF, for example, has a plan for humanitarian action in 2023.

The organization is seeking $14.7 million from the U.S. government to provide humanitarian services to treat malnutrition, thirst, lack of access to education and poverty in Eritrea. UNICEF’s predicted impact will help 40,000 wasted children, administer health care for 600,000 women and children, grant learning supplies for 200,000 children and provide water access to 100,000 Eritreans.

Eritrea has struggled with extreme poverty and hunger ever since its liberation from Ethiopia in 1993. From travel restrictions and military conscription to child malnutrition and rejection of foreign aid, Eritrea has a long way to go. However, as COVID-19 transportation bans have loosened, there is an aspiration across the world to help the Eritrean people. Organizations like UNICEF have committed themselves to providing aid to Eritrea. Furthermore, the literacy rate is higher than ever at 76.6%, according to the U.N. – a huge leap from the 52% literacy rate in 2002. With great progress in education, there is hope for homegrown agents of change to further Eritrea’s development.

– Skye Connors
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Hunger in Eritrea
Eritrea is located at the Horn of Africa in the Sahel Desert that is dominated by arid and semi-arid climatic conditions. The country is, therefore, vulnerable to adverse effects of climate variability, recurring droughts and environmental degradation. The World Bank estimates that 69 percent of Eritrea’s population lives below the poverty line. The economy is largely based on subsistence agriculture, with 80 percent of the population depending on farming and pastoralism.

Eritrea has no free press and political repression of the opposition is rampant. After a severe drought in the Horn of Africa in 2015, president of the country, Isaias Afwerki, polemicized that the country had magically evaded the drought, denying a food crisis. A 2016 U.N. report documents that the president rejected U.N. food aid during the 2015 drought.

The proceeding 10 facts about hunger in Eritrea provide a snapshot of the political climate in the country that ousted humanitarian aid agencies over the last decade, while hunger persisted. The facts also highlight advances in sustainable agriculture and projects that have increased food security.

Top 10 Facts About Hunger in Eritrea

  1. Since gaining independence in 1993, Eritrea has had tense relations with humanitarian agencies. In July 2005, the country asked the USAID to terminate its operations and leave the country. It continued expelling other international organizations from working within the country in 2006.
  2. Beginning in 2000, Mercy Corps carried out more than $40 million worth of assistance that alleviated hunger until they closed their operations at the request of the Government of Eritrea in June 2006.
  3. According to the BBC report in 2011, emaciated Eritreans were crossing the heavily militarised border at the rate of almost 900 people a month, despite official denial of food crisis by President Afwerki.
  4. In 2013, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), over 60 percent of the Eritrean population was reported to be undernourished in the period between 2011 and 2013.
  5. Eritrea currently meets only a third of its estimated food and the other two-third needs are being met by international food aid programs.
  6. Data from the Nutrition Sentinel Site Surveillance system indicate an increase in malnutrition rates since 2015 in four out of six regions of the country, and projections estimate that 23,000 children under the age of 5 will need treatment for severe acute malnutrition in 2018.
  7. In May 2018, the Government of Eritrea donated 40,000 tons of food to South Sudan. The country has already pledged 50,000 tons of food aid for the people of South Sudan in 2017.
  8. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) aimed to increase collaboration with Eritrea to promote sustainability and food security. There has been a success with projects that aim to increase sustainable agriculture in Eritrea, specifically in the small village of Keih-Kor. With the help of the UNDP, the village was able to regain the use of 45 hectares of farmland.
  9. In the Central Region, UNDP helped build three micro-dams in the Gala-Hefhi sub-region. Over 1,200 villagers benefitted from the dam constructed in Lamza Village, with improved food security and stronger productivity.
  10. In 2018, UNICEF treated 15,000 children under the age of 5 that had severe acute malnutrition and 40,000 children under the age of 5 with minor acute malnutrition, provided 477,000 children aged 6 to 59 months with vitamin A supplementation and 70,000 children aged 6 to 59 months. Pregnant and lactating women also benefited from supplementary feeding.

Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Five years later, the war between the two countries broke out and lasted from May 1998 to June 2000. The conflict saw hundreds of millions of dollars diverted from development aid to arms procurement.

In July 2018, Eritrea signed a historic peace agreement with Ethiopia. Four months following these good measures of social reunification in the Horn of Africa, the United Nations Security Council unanimously lifted international sanctions against Eritrea that have been imposed continuously since 2009. The measures were based on concerns that the Eritrean government was funding and arming the Somali extremist group, Al-Shabaab.

The 10 facts about hunger in Eritrea provide hope that hunger may turn around in the Horn of Africa due to Eritrea’s reconciliation with its neighbors, as the reconciliation could also mean a more open attitude towards humanitarian agencies. There is evidence that suggests that Eritrea could also be a friend in alleviating hunger in the future, across other nations in the Horn of Africa.

Sasha Kramer
Photo: Flickr