Eritrea — June 2010

Sociopolitical Situation

The ongoing drought in the lowlands and coastal areas continues to displace some local populations, who are leaving their homes in search of food and water. In the regions’ few urban centers, the price of basic food staples, e.g., sorghum, grain and produce, continues to soar well beyond the purchasing power of most residents. Nonetheless, rural poor are flocking to these centers, where the poorest among them, especially women and children, beg on the streets and evade authorities for fear of recrimination.

The government has acknowledged last season’s crop failure and harvest mismanagement. In response, it is offering humanitarian assistance to those demonstrating the greatest need as well as former and deceased service men and women and their families. In the urban centers, the government is rationing food and is taking measures to ensure it is sold at affordable prices.

Showers in April and May (which came early) offer hopes for a better rainy season (which begins in July and ends in September) and a better harvest. The government considers food security the nation’s top priority and is investing in substantial infrastructure and agricultural projects in the countryside. Catholic Relief Services, which has worked effectively with the government and the local church for many years, was ordered out of the country by the government. The few United Nations agencies operating in Eritrea have low profiles and do not undertake any significant projects.

Notwithstanding U.N. sanctions on government leaders, Eritrea is slowly emerging as a new mining frontier. More than a dozen mining companies currently are exploring the country. Though the official media does not often report of these developments, mining companies are offering employment opportunities, and most citizens hope that mining will revamp the national economy.

Religious Situation

Religious leaders — Christian and Muslim — play an all-too limited role in the social and economic development of the country. At present, it is even difficult to discern the growth of the four established faiths: Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Islam. For its part, the financially strapped Eritrean Catholic Church continues to provide educational and health services to all creeds throughout the country.

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