Lesotho + 5 more

Alarming shortage of non-food items to combat crisis in Southern Africa, UN warns

Johannesburg - The United Nations today launched its mid-term review of the 2002/2003 Consolidated Appeal (CAP) for the humanitarian crisis in southern Africa, placing special emphasis on the urgent need for tens of millions of dollars' worth of non-food items.
"With the generous support of the international community, primarily in the form of food aid, we have so far been able to stave off a humanitarian tragedy of unparalleled proportions in southern Africa," said Judith Lewis, Regional Coordinator for the UN Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in southern Africa. "But this is an extremely complex crisis, which is inextricably linked to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and it cannot be cured by food alone. We are still facing massive shortages of crucial non-food items."

In July 2002, the United Nations system, including WFP, FAO, OCHA, UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA and UNDP, in collaboration with implementing partners and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), launched a regional appeal for US$611 million - US$507 million for food and US$104 million for non-food items - to address the humanitarian needs of 12.8 million people in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland. The number of people in need was updated to 14.4 million following joint assessments conducted by the United Nations, SADC and national Governments in August 2002.

To date, the total response amounts to just under US$350 million - of which more than US$320 million has been for food.

The humanitarian crisis, catalyzed by a lethal combination of poor harvests, HIV/AIDS, chronic poverty, deteriorating economies and poor policy decisions converged on the six affected countries early last year and continues to plague growing numbers of people across the region. According to the latest assessments, despite food and other assistance that has already saved countless lives, more than 15 million men, women and children are now extremely vulnerable in the region.

"Not only does the UN need continued food donations over the next months, but to help get the region back onto its feet, we must see increased and immediate pledges for vital relief items such as water, sanitation and educational supplies, agricultural inputs and medicines to fight off disease, HIV/AIDS in particular, which is threatening to tear apart southern African societies," Lewis added.

Although the crisis has been stabilized somewhat by a quick and effective response from the donor community, the situation remains precarious across the region. In particular, the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe is deteriorating rapidly, while HIV/AIDS continues to wreak havoc all across southern Africa.

Not only has HIV/AIDS infected millions of people across the region, which suffers the highest levels of the disease in the world, but it is also preying specifically on women, who form the backbone of African society, acting as caregivers, farmers and breadwinners.

In addition, several million orphans have been left to find support and means of survival. Grandparents are caring for families with increasing numbers of children, agricultural knowledge and capacity is dying along with victims of the disease and teachers and health care workers are being lost at a distressing rate.

If urgent, multi-sectoral measures are not taken to start tackling the HIV/AIDS pandemic and its impact on societies, the region will not be able to recover from the current crisis in the short term, let alone be able to develop in the long term. But to launch these measures, continued and diversified assistance is urgently required from the international community.

"Without continued assistance on all fronts, this battle cannot be won," said Lewis. "We need all the weapons at our disposal to help millions of vulnerable families survive this crippling crisis and begin the lengthy and arduous process of recovery."

For more information contact:

Jennifer Abrahamson Tel: + 27 11 517 1656; + 27 83 300 4954
Richard Lee Tel: + 27 11 517 1686; + 27 83 460 1787
Brinda Adhikari Tel: + 27 11 517 1592; + 27 84 326 3928