Mercy Corps has purchased kerosene stoves, fuel cans and a one-month's supply of kerosene for immediate distribution to approximately 1,500 IDP (internally displaced person) families. The families are among the latest victims of the two-year-old episodic war between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Since active warfare resumed on May 12, 2000, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have been forced to flee their homes near the frontlines. Over 430,000 currently are in camps or less formal collection points. Hundreds of thousands more have sought refuge in remote valleys and mountains with no access to humanitarian assistance.
According to Rachel Lieber, Mercy Corps' Senior Program Officer for Africa, even those individuals who managed to reach camps found themselves in a desperate situation. "The camps were hastily set up and overwhelmed by the sheer number of people arriving in them. There is not enough food, water, shelter or medical assistance to go around. Even when food is distributed, many people do not have the means to cook it, which is why Mercy Corps decided to provide stoves." The stoves and necessary accessories were made possible through donations from the Charis Foundation, the Varitz Family Foundation and generous contributions from individual supporters of Mercy Corps.
Though Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a ceasefire and peace agreement on June 18, 2000, it is widely agreed that humanitarian conditions in Eritrea will continue to be serious - and probably worsen -- for the foreseeable future. The rainy season is beginning and indications are that a majority of farmers will not be able to plant, thereby extending the country's reliance on external assistance through late 2001. The rainy season also brings the threat of disease to IDPs, most of whom have inadequate or no shelter at all.
Inadequate shelter exposes IDPs, already in a weakened state from prolonged exposure to extreme weather, inadequate food and medical assistance and exhaustion from walking for days to reach safety, to malaria, respiratory infections and diarrhea - all of which can be fatal under these conditions. Mercy Corps' Field Coordinator in Eritrea, Bob Counseller, agrees. "Shelter is beyond critical," he says from Asmara. "Reports from some of the IDP camps indicate that 25-30 people are crowding into available tents and kids are shivering, soaking wet from the rain. It is only a matter of time now before things get real ugly here."
Mercy Corps is working to obtain funding for a large-scale emergency response program that will address shelter and other critical needs. "In the meantime," Lieber says, "we are in the process of purchasing and distributing oral rehydration salts - a simple, lifesaving drink for people suffering from dehydration to ensure that children and other people in IDP camps don't die from curable illnesses like diarrhea."