CNEWA Canada

Stories From the Field: COVID-19 Emergency Relief Reaches Eritrea

We received the following report from our office in Eritrea. With donations received from the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund, CNEWA has delivered much-needed emergency supplies to the Catholic Eparchy of Keren, one of the four jurisdictions of the Eritrean Catholic Church. This report describes the urgent situation on the ground — and how your funds were used.

Eritrea, the most isolated country from the international community, has not escaped the pandemic. The first COVID-19 case in Eritrea was reported on 21 March.  By the first week of July 2020, the number of affected people in the country reached more than 230 persons.

The subsequent diffusion of the virus throughout the country has been swift, prompting an absolute lock-down, including the closing of all institutions providing social services to the community as well as banning every sort of transportation. As a result, prices of food and other items have tripled, aggravating an already suffering populace. This has necessitated fundraising to combat the virus.  Donations (in cash and in kind) were announced by the mass media.

Eritrea’s healthcare system is fragile, suffering from an acute shortage of supplies — even with the closure of all private clinics one year ago. Many people cannot access medical assistance, let alone quality care, and there are chronic shortages of running water and electricity even as the virus spreads.

Church’s response.  The spread of coronavirus has come at a difficult time, and many are risking their lives to try and feed their families.  

Therefore, the response of CNEWA’s supporters has come at the right time. The Catholic Eparchial Secretariat of Keren (CESK) received 285,000 Nakfa — the equivalent of $19,000 USD.

Here, we describe the efforts to prepare for the procurement and distribution of food items purchased with those funds.

Preparations. Taking into consideration the urgency of the situation, CESK agreed with the regional administration office to purchase the food commodities, and discussed in depth how to facilitate the procurement and avoid delays. 

In addition, CESK and the local government agreed in selecting the most vulnerable households and worked out how to distribute food.

Among other things:

It was decided that the most vulnerable (living hand-to-mouth), the disabled, and pregnant and nursing mothers should be given priority. Identifying the recipients was done by a local committee. During the distribution, the church and government representatives were to ensure that people practiced “social distancing.” The CESK health department was on hand to distribute leaflets on hygiene and sanitation.

Procurement. Having made the necessary preparations, the issue of where to get the food was another challenge. In Keren, it was very difficult to get large quantities. Therefore, we agreed to purchase grain from the region of Geluj, Gash Barka. Gash Barka is the bread-basket of Eritrea. 

But Geluj is a remote area, about 90 miles from Keren, and the Gash Barka region has been devastated by the virus. CESK personnel eventually hired a truck, despite the high fuel costs, but it broke down on its way to Keren, loaded with food items. We were forced to transfer the contents and hire another truck. Loading and unloading became another burden. 

Distribution. When the grain arrived, CESK and the CNEWA regional office agreed unanimously on the following distribution criteria:

  • A family of 1-3 people would receive 25 kg of grain and 1 kg of lentils. Most of these beneficiaries were people with disabilities totally dependent on their families.
  • A family of 4-5 people would receive 35 kg of grain and 2 kg of lentils.
  • A family of 6 or more would receive 45 kg of grain and 3 kg of lentils. 

Thus, the gifts from CNEWA’s donors were used to help the people of Keren.

Ultimately, a total of 398 families benefitted from the project.

To learn more, visit the COVID-19 Emergency Fund page.

And to meet some of the beneficiaries, watch the video below.

Thanks to the generosity of CNEWA’s donors, hundreds of people in Eritrea have received emergency aid to help feed their families during the COVID-19 pandemic. (video: CNEWA/Daniel Moreno)

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