Eritrea is one of the world's poorest countries. Poverty is rampant, and the severity of the war, compounded by the effects of drought, forced the migration of about 1 million people (1998 est.) to neighboring Sudan, decreasing the resident population to 3.5 million. In 2000 about half of this population faced a serious humanitarian emergency as their dismal situation gave rise to epidemics of diarrhea, malaria, and respiratory infections.
Basic necessities for dealing with the crises of homelessness, want, and disease are worse than inadequate. In 1997 access to sanitation was available to a mere 13 percent of Eritreans, while only 22 percent had access to safe water. Widespread malnutrition and a poor health-care system lead to high infant mortality (70 per 1,000 live births) and low life expectancy (50.8 years) in 1998. The inadequate medical services are barely available outside the capital.
A high illiteracy rate, estimated at between 49 and 80 percent, demonstrates the weakness of the educational system. Over half of the children of school age do not study because of poverty and a lack of educational facilities. There is only one small university in Asmara with 1,300 students. Solutions to these many social problems are unlikely so long as Eritrea lacks domestic resources and foreign aid remains relatively low.