Lesotho + 5 more

Southern Africa: HIV/AIDS a ''horrifying new disaster'' in Southern African


  • Although a humanitarian crisis had been mitigated in Southern Africa through swift food aid deliveries, a horrifying new disaster was looming in Southern Africa in the form of HIV/AIDS, James Morris, the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for humanitarian needs in Southern Africa warned on Wednesday.
    "The impact of HIV/AIDS on this part of the world is enormous and the impact on women and children is devastating," Morris told journalists after a visit to four of the six southern African countries battling critical food shortages affecting over 14 million people.

"This crisis is an emergency that we have never known before. We are simply going to have to look at things very differently than we have before."

What constituted an emergency would have to be redefined, and all projects would be seen through the eyes of how they would solve the HIV/AIDS challenge.

Recalling scenes from his trip through Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Lesotho, Morris said he would "never forget" the number of children he met caring for themselves because their parents had died of the disease, as well as elderly and tired grandmothers stepping in to take care of their orphaned grandchildren, as well as the "remarkable work" of many individuals who were working to make a difference.

He described classrooms with memorial lists pinned to the walls containing the names of pupils and teachers who died of the disease.

"We visited a place with about 60 children between the ages of four and seven, although they looked as though they were two or three. They were all on the floor eating because both parents had died of HIV/AIDS in the last year.

"You don't just forget that," he said. "There are 2.5 million kids in this predicament in these six countries [including Mozambique and Swaziland] and these kids are in a predicament not of their making and the world needs to come to grips with this."

He said seven million agriculture workers had died over the last 10 to 15 years in sub-Saharan Africa and large numbers of farmers were too sick to farm. The combination of HIV/AIDS and its impact on agriculture, along with the complications of drought and erratic rainfall lead to a new type of famine, Morris said.

Stephen Lewis, the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for HIV/AIDS said the interlocking of HIV/AIDS and hunger was causing a series of societal breakdowns through all sectors, not just agriculture.

"What happens when the education sector, the water sector, the transport sector goes? Some government officials have said it feels like an overall societal collapse and that they are fighting for survival.

"It is the most ferocious assault on women. Not only are they sick and dying, but they are caring for all the other sick and dying people and are never recognised and never receive any pay," Lewis said.

All 305 workers at a home-based care centre in Zambia were women, and this pattern was likely to continue, he said.

"That and the predatory sexual behaviour of men has to change through a vigorous response from the women and the human rights community," he said.

There were many ways to stop the toll, and grassroots interventions were achieving good results, but there wasn't enough money to expand these projects, he said.

Lewis said the substantial amount that US President George W Bush had requested from Congress towards HIV/AIDS in Africa over the next five years was a "dramatic" signal that the US was ready to confront the pandemic and urged the G7 countries meeting in June to follow suit with a commitment for HIV/AIDS.

He also urged the South African government to institute antiretroviral treatment immediately.

Touching on the situation in Zimbabwe where the food crisis affected half the population, Morris said the United Nations had offered to help with food distribution to help the government restore credibility on humanitarian issues following allegations of food being distributed along party lines.

He said the government appeared interested in the proposition so the UN would wait for a reply.

He added that he was convinced that there was now no political interference with World Food Programme (WFP) relief food following a series of meetings with the government.

He said that although he was optimistic about food security and the coming harvests in Malawi and Zambia, agricultural production was "way down" in Zimbabwe primarily through the loss of commercial production.

Zimbabwe is just emerging from a period of compulsory acquisitions and evictions of white-owned commercial farm land.

At the conference, WFP regional head Judith Lewis thanked the South African government for the US $20 million that it had donated towards easing the regional crisis. This would be used to purchase 100,000 mt of maize.


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