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Funding crisis threatens to undermine relief and recovery in Southern Africa

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Johannesburg - Serious funding shortages are threatening to undermine efforts by the United Nations to save the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in southern Africa as well as to destroy the fragile gains made over the last 12 months, warned James T. Morris, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa.
"A humanitarian tragedy was averted in southern Africa last year but the crisis is far from over," said Morris. "Millions of people across the region are still dependent on aid for their survival, while others require international assistance to help them recover. But so far, the donors' response has been alarmingly slow."

Despite last year's successful emergency operation and an improved agricultural season, millions of people remain extremely vulnerable, due to a combination of chronic poverty, severe food shortages and, in particular, catastrophic rates of HIV/AIDS.

In July, the United Nations system, including FAO, OCHA, UNAIDS, UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, WFP and WHO, appealed for US$530 million " US$310 million for food relief and US$220 million for non-food activities " to address the humanitarian needs of 6.5 million vulnerable people in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

However, donors have so far contributed just 20 percent of the required funds, leaving a massive shortfall of US$423 million. The appeal for non-food items has raised only US$9.5 million or 4.3 percent of overall needs.

"Without additional donations, many crucial projects will have to be scaled back or shut down; others will not be implemented at all," said Morris. "Not only will people's lives be put at risk but so will all the gains we've made over the past year. Donors must provide more support " otherwise the orphan they helped to save last year could well end up dying this year."

Along with the provision of food aid, the 12-month UN Consolidated Appeal (CAP) also seeks to fund water and sanitation, agriculture, education and health projects.

However, UN agencies will be unable to continue " or indeed launch " many of these critical programmes because of the funding crisis.

Across the region, UNICEF's successful efforts to improve the nutritional status of children and pregnant or lactating mothers are seriously threatened by the lack of resources because some key programmes will have to shut down. More specifically, in Mozambique, UNICEF has been unable to initiate any new activities in the areas of water, sanitation, education or prevention of sexual exploitation.

FAO and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) urgently require funds to control transboundary animal diseases, such as foot and mouth disease. Failure to contain the spread of these diseases would seriously affect the already reduced livestock assets of vulnerable households.

WHO intends to carry out a health impact assessment to discover the true extent of the impact of HIV/AIDS on the health sector, which will assist future activities in this sector. UNDP needs funding for its policy of 'capacity replenishment' within the health and social services sectors, which aims to place UN Volunteers at national and district levels.

Meanwhile, WFP is trying to feed 6.5 million people but faces a shortfall of US$211 million. Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people will have their rations reduced " or even cut " unless additional funds are received.

"These programmes are costly but they are essential to both short term relief and long term recovery in southern Africa," said Morris. "The international community can either help millions of people to restore their self reliance and begin rebuilding their lives. Or it can watch as HIV/AIDS propels southern Africa further and further towards an unprecedented and unimaginable tragedy."

HIV/AIDS is killing millions of the most productive people prematurely, including a disproportionate number of women, while leaving millions more too sick, too poor or too overburdened to provide for themselves and their families.

But short-term measures are not enough. They will help to address the current crisis but will not prevent a catastrophe in the future. HIV/AIDS threatens to destabilise countries across the region by wrecking social services, destroying communities and creating whole generations of orphans " with few skills and even less hope.

A multi-sectoral approach is the only way to combat HIV/AIDS in southern Africa " and central to this approach are many of the activities in the CAP.

"This appeal will not win the war against AIDS, but it will encourage communities to start fighting back by providing them with both help and hope," said Morris. "It will also prevent southern Africa from being sucked ever deeper into a vicious cycle of vulnerability and crisis " which ensures that even a small natural shock is enough to threaten millions of people with starvation and the region as a whole with catastrophe."