UN envoy to assess food security situation

The UN Special Envoy for the Humanitarian Crisis in the Horn of Africa, Martti Ahtisaari, began an eight day visit to the region on Monday to assess prospects for long-term food security.

The former Finnish president began his visit in Eritrea where food shortages have left more than 2.3 million people in need of aid.

While 80 percent of the Eritrean population is rural, the country only produced 85,000 tonnes of cereals in 2004 - just 15 percent of its annual requirement and 47 percent of its average harvest over the last 12 years.

One million Eritreans were likely to go hungry this year unless donors could step up food aid, according to government officials.

Ahtisaari will travel to Ethiopia on Thursday to follow up on recommendations of an evaluation into the 2002-2003 emergency in the country
where some 15 million people faced starvation.

According to a recent UN report, Ethiopia was threatened by larger emergencies because of growing vulnerability in the country. It warned that many of the root causes of vulnerability and destitution were still unchecked.

This year the Ethiopian government had made an effort to differentiate between chronically and acutely food insecure populations, a statement released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

It had launched a safety net programme under which five million people were receiving food and cash transfers for work. However, the programme had been criticised for delays in providing cash or food transfers to families which had resulted in increasing levels of malnutrition.

OCHA said the envoy would meet Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and advocate for longer term food security and livelihood issues. It said that while emergency food needs had been met, only 68 percent of the non-food sector that covers areas like health and sanitation had been covered.