There are more than three million children in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Swaziland and Lesotho who have lost a mother or both parents. Zambia has nearly 900,000 orphans, 17.6 per cent of the child population according to UN figures. Among them, two thirds have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. In Zimbabwe, the situation is worse. It has more than one million orphans, nearly 77 per cent left parentless by AIDS.
In Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland, orphan figures are similar to those of Zambia and Zimbabwe with between 50-60 per cent of orphans having lost at least one parent from AIDS. Where one parent has died from AIDS, the probability that the child has already lost or will lose the other parent too, is relatively high.
And it is the orphans who are among the first to suffer in the rapidly developing food crisis in the region. In a culture where there is a tradition of support from extended family members at times of trouble, the food shortages and the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS are putting an unbearable strain on households and forcing people to make impossible choices.
"The food crisis is seriously overstretching the capacity of extended families to absorb the needs of orphans and what we are seeing is families having to make a choice between feeding orphans or seeing their own children go hungry. Often it is the orphans that lose out," says the British Red Cross Food Security Coordinator for southern Africa, Renny Nancholas.
The situation will be compounded if donors fail to respond sufficiently to appeals for funds to alleviate the food shortages in the region. The International Federation launched an appeal for more than =A340m for these five countries last month.
"The food crisis is deepening every day. There is still time to stop it from evolving into a humanitarian disaster, but donors must respond now before it is too late. We need to make food available to the most vulnerable households urgently," says Iain Logan, Disaster Operations Manager for the International Federation.
Red Cross societies in Southern Africa already provide orphans with supplementary food and the International Federation appeal for the region targets households that are unable to cope with the food shortage because breadwinners are living with HIV/AIDS.
Who to Contact
For further information please contact Clare Finnigan on 020 7201 5017