Lesotho

Lesotho: Twin crises devastating families, UN envoy

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JOHANNESBURG, 24 January (IRIN) - UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, James T. Morris, has highlighted the plight of women and children amid the twin crises of HIV/AIDS and food shortages.
Visiting Lesotho, as part of a tour of affected countries in the region, Morris said the deadly combination of widespread food shortages and Lesotho's rates of HIV/AIDS infection - the fourth highest in the world - meant humanitarian actors faced an "enormous battle".

According to preliminary figures from November inter-agency vulnerability assessments, about 650,000 people are extremely vulnerable in Lesotho and are in need of food aid and other assistance until at least the end of March, when the next harvest is due.

Some 330,000 people have benefited from food aid supplied by the World Food Programme, which has received just over half of the relief food requirements against a joint UN appeal launched last year. Less than 10 percent of needed funds have been made available for essential
non-food items such as medicines.

The gravity of two crises had prompted the addition of Stephen Lewis, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, on Morris' second mission to the region, which began in Lesotho on Wednesday.

"Attention at the highest level of the UN to tackle this dual calamity reflects the urgent priority attached to the current crisis," said a UN news release.

Morris is quoted as saying that he had been "moved by the struggle that the people of this country, especially women, face every day to survive and support their families".

The special envoy met some of the hardest-hit families in the highland villages of Lesotho's Mokhotlong District on Thursday. "It is clear, especially with the likelihood of another poor harvest and the astronomical HIV/AIDS level, that we have an enormous battle ahead of us in the fight against growing food insecurity and vulnerability in Lesotho," Morris said.

According to official statistics the adult HIV/AIDS prevalence rates have skyrocketed in the last few years, up from 23.5 percent of the population aged 15-49 in 1999, to at least 31 percent. It is believed the rates could now be even higher.

"HIV/AIDS is destroying the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people across Lesotho and is threatening society as a whole," Lewis was quoted as saying. "The link between the pandemic and food insecurity has become shockingly stark - more and more families are too weak to grow enough food, while countless children orphaned by AIDS are being left to fend for themselves."

Morris will also tour Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi in coming days.

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