By virtue of its location in the Horn of Africa region, Eritrea is semi-arid, exhibiting a varied topography, rainfall and climate, with altitudes that range from 60 meters below sea level to over 3,000 meters above sea level. The mean annual rainfall ranges from less than 300 mm in the coastal areas to a wider range from 400 mm to 1,000 mm in the highlands and the western lowlands. There are two major periods of precipitation; one from June to September (Kremti rains), covering both the western lowlands and the highlands and the second between October and February (Bahari or Coastal rains) covering the eastern lowlands.
The country’s economy largely depends on subsistence agriculture, with two thirds of the population engaged in subsistence farming and pastoralism for livelihood, rendering them vulnerable to climate variability. The Drought Risk Reduction Policies and Programmes Report (July 2007) produced by the Eritrean Ministry of Agriculture, and the Inter-Ministerial Drought Risk Reduction Committee of the State of Eritrea acknowledges that Eritrea has suffered greatly from the negative effects of climate variability, recurrent droughts and food insecurity, since its worst drought in 2000. It is estimated that one in every three years is a drought year.
Historically, agricultural productivity has been low because it is characterized by use of traditional practices and limited inputs especially in rural areas. Available data indicates that, in the best of seasons, the country can at most produce 60-80 per cent of its national food requirements; and when drought strikes, production can fall to as low as 25 per cent of national consumption. Poverty is high, with 66 per cent of the population estimated as poor, and 37 per cent of the poor living below the poverty line. In 2011, the country was ranked 177 out of 187 on the Human Development Index (HDI 2010/11).
Nutrition assessments undertaken in June 2012 show a reduction by 4.8 per cent in the Global Acute Malnutrition and 5.3 per cent Severe Acute Malnutrition. UNICEF and WHO support over 260 community-based and facility based therapeutic feeding centres in the country, indicative of persistent food insecurity at household levels. Vulnerable groups include small-scale rural farmers, pastoralists, the urban poor, the disabled, people living with HIV/AIDS, and refugees and asylum seekers. As at the end of July 2012, Eritrea was host to some 4,853 refugees in Elit and Emkulu camp, 96 per cent of whom (4,670 people) are Somalis. The Eritrean Government has endorsed the issuance of residence permits to Sudanese and South Sudanese refugees upon the closure of Elit camp.
The unresolved border dispute with Ethiopia has further hindered economic progress in Eritrea as a large percentage of manpower and other resources have been dedicated to national defense. Service in the national military is mandatory for all able-bodied youth. Ethiopia is yet to comply with the border ruling issued by the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) in 2002. This has partly contributed to the further deterioration of Eritrea’s trust and relationship with the UN Security Council due to the latter’s alleged failure to enforce the EEBC decision.
The scope of humanitarian assistance in the country is highly limited due to Government’s policy of self-reliance, resulting in acute coordination challenges for the Humanitarian Country Team, including access restrictions on international staff; the lack of inter-agency needs assessments and absence of up-to-date information on the situation in the country; an absence of strategic dialogue and coordination between Government and humanitarian partners; the lack of a common humanitarian response and assistance strategy; the absence of international NGO partners since the end of 2011; and capacity constraints with Government partners. An NGO proclamation issued in 2005 requires NGOs to have at least $2million in their account to operate in the country, and prohibits them from acting as implementing partners for UN agencies. The Office of Refugee Affairs (ORA) is the only Implementing Partner for UNHCR Eritrea and is responsible for the overall management of the refugee camps.
The UN Country team at the end of June 2012 made progress on discussions with the Government of Eritrea (GoE) on the future of the UN-Eritrea cooperation beyond 2012. Following a confirmation by GoE, UN agencies have submitted a draft four-year Strategic Partnership Cooperation Framework (SPCF) to the Government based on the last UNDAF (2007-2011). At present, UN operations have been restricted to health, water supply and sanitation.
OCHA has been working with UN agencies to ensure that non-food humanitarian concerns are incorporated into development programmes. OCHA has supported the UNCT in prioritizing more than $20 million in CERF contributions over the last six years. OCHA further develops key messages and briefing notes for the RC/HC and senior UN officials for ongoing advocacy/dialogue with senior Government officials and donors. The cluster approach has not been rolled out due to the lack of partners and a requirement to implement humanitarian activities through Government structures in line with the 2005 NGO Proclamation.
The UN in Eritrea
The United Nations Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator (R/HC) in Eritrea is the designated representative of the Secretary-General and is responsible for coordinating both UN developmental and humanitarian activities in Eritrea. This is achieved through forging unity and coherence of the UN Country Team in support of plans, priorities and strategies of the country. Collaboration with Government in this process is key.
As a leading agency, UNDP Eritrea country office hosts non-resident UN agencies with activities in Eritrea, and ensures that they provide assistance to counterparts through UNDP's own programmes. The agencies on the ground include: WHO, UNICEF, UNHCR, UNFPA, UNAIDS, FAO, OCHA, UNDSS, WFP and the World Bank. WFP and the World Bank only have liaison offices. All non-resident UN Agencies are represented by the R/HC.