Up to 15 million people in Ethiopia and Eritrea could face famine conditions in the coming months, according to officials with the United Nations.
The two east African countries located on the Horn of Africa have been hit by a crippling drought, which has led to massive crop failures. Erratic and insufficient rains have forced farmers to give up on this year's harvests and have increased fears of widespread food shortages.
In Eritrea, the drought has severely diminished food production in its two breadbasket provinces, Gash Barka and Debub. An estimated 1.4 million people - more than a third of the country's population - are expected to need food aid in the upcoming months.
The possibility of widespread food shortages makes Mercy Corps' work in Eritrea even more critical at this time. In March 2002, Mercy Corps began operating a Global Food For Education school-feeding program that will eventually provide 35,000 primary school students will nutritional, high-energy biscuits every school day. For many students, this is their primary source of daily nutrition.
With an average annual income of $710, Eritrea is one of the poorest nations in the world. It is also a country that suffers from widespread hunger and food insecurity and is still recovering from years of conflict.
Mercy Corps began relief and development support to Eritrea in the mid-1980s with a four-year program based in Sudan that included emergency relief to Eritrean refugees in Sudan. From 1995 to 1997, Mercy Corps worked with the Kale Hiwot Church to carry out soil and water conservation activities.
The food shortages in east Africa come at a time when 14 million in the southern part of the continent are also dealing with hunger and food shortages, creating a difficult logistical situation for relief organizations.
Mercy Corps is providing support to a local organization, the Manicaland Development Association, to strengthen food security in southern Africa.