Aid efforts may be too late for Eritrea: UNICEF

UNICEF warns time is running out to save millions from starving in Eritrea

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is pleading for urgent assistance for millions of people suffering from drought and famine in Eritrea.

The agency warns of terrible consequences if the international community remains indifferent to the humanitarian crisis facing the African country.

UNICEF says 70 percent of the country's 2.3 million people face acute food and water shortages.

The UNICEF representative in Eritrea, Christian Balslev-Olesen, says the country will run out of food by April.

He adds even if donors were to send food to Eritrea now, it would not arrive in time.

"It takes us at least two to three months to get food from Europe," he says. "It takes us four to six months to get food from North America or Asia into Eritrea. So, we are not going to meet the deadline in April when the country is running out of food and water."

Balslev-Olesen says if war breaks out in Iraq, it might become possible for ships to pass through the Red Sea.

At the very least, insurance rates would become prohibitively expensive.

This would create huge problems for Eritrea, he says.

He notes food and other relief supplies cannot be brought into Eritrea through neighboring Ethiopia and Sudan. The only possibility is to ship goods through the Red Sea ports of Massawa and Assab.