By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
June 22, 2011 (ADDIS ABABA) – An exiled Eritrean opposition group on Wednesday called on the international community to immediately act to provide urgent assistance to the thousands of Eritreans it said are affected by the Narbo volcano that erupted over a week ago in the country’s south.
The Addis Ababa-based Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization (RSADO) said the volcanic eruption has killed at least seven people, injured many others and displaced thousands of people.
“We call on the international community to swiftly use diplomatic pressure over the Eritrean government to allow an international humanitarian aid to the thousands of volcano-hit people’’ reached by phone Yasin Mohamed Abdela, RSADO spokesperson told Sudan Tribune from the Ethiopia-Eritrea border.
Independent news about the eruption is hard to come by as Eritrea does not allow independent local journalists or foreign correspondents into the the Red Sea nation.
The RSADO official accused the Eritrean government of hiding the level of the disaster. He said that his party holds the Eritrean government accountable for the loss of life and other related damage caused by the volcanic activity.
“The Eritrean government had the knowledge in advance on the occurrence of the volcanic eruption and evacuated hundreds of its soldiers from the area one day ahead of the eruption however [they did not give] advanced notice to the inhabitants nor did [the government] evacuate them to safety’’ Yasin said.
The UN or other NGOs are reportedly not allowed to leave the capital, for independent assessments of the situation of the people. Since Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia in 1991 the country has been retiscent to allow a large UN and NGO presence in the country stating that it did want to become dependent on foreign aid.
“The Eritrean government is well known of deliberately blocking access to foreign media coverage in the country to avoid any possible international intervention’’ Yasin said.
“This is what the latest incident proves - hide the level of the impact, neglect and trade its own people to its odd ties with the international community” he added.
After over a week-long silence, Eritrean state television last night confirmed the causalities after the Red Sea Afar rebels released a statement on their website regarding the deaths and damage the volcano had caused.
The ongoing volcanic eruption is blowing ash and large amounts poisonous gas such as sulfur dioxide causing pollution to the environment and other natural resources that remote community depends to lead their day-to-day life.
“People in the southern Denkelyia region are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. The local communities at the vicinity need an urgent supply of food, water, shelter and medical attention’’ he said.
“People, mainly children and mothers, are getting sick. Unless an urgent medical team is deployed the death toll will sharply rise in the days to come.’’
The toxic gases emiited by lava in an eruption can cause asphyxia and death to both animals and humans if inhaled.
Ash can travel for miles in the air and can also cause rashes and irritation to skin if it is left exposed.
During the late evening of 12 June, Narbo exploded into life sending plumes of ash 14 km (eight miles) into the air and triggering two moderate earthquakes of 5.7 magnitude.
According to the director general of Mines at the Ministry of Energy and Mines, Alem Kibreab the volcano spewed so much ash and lava that it has created a new land mass measuring hundreds of square meters.
A similar volcanic eruption in Eritrea occurred in 1861, in Dubbi, Southern Denkel.
The latest volcanic eruption on Eritrea has also affected at least 5,000 people living at the borders in Ethiopia, aid workers told the BBC.
It has polluted water and salt beds in Ethiopian border villages, leaving children ill and killing animals.