Warning that some 13 million people in southern Africa were on the brink of starvation in the region's worst food crisis in nearly a decade, the United Nations today launched a broad $600 million humanitarian appeal to help secure food and other relief supplies to combat the looming disaster.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on the international community and the countries concerned to "join hands" with the UN in a partnership to avert another human tragedy on the African continent.
"There is still an opportunity to avert famine and to save lives, but this window is closing rapidly," Mr. Annan said in a message delivered on his behalf by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kenzo Oshima to a meeting at UN Headquarters in New York, where the appeal was launched. "With your support, we can save lives today."
The $611 million appeal covers Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, where crop production has dropped for two straight years because of drought and floods. The situation in those countries has also been exacerbated by high rates of HIV/AIDS and a host of other problems, including land degradation and poor management of strategic grain reserves, UN officials said.
The money from the "Consolidated National Appeals for the Humanitarian Crisis in Southern Africa" would be used to address food security needs, livelihoods and the prevention of HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases.
Speaking later at a press briefing, Mr. Oshima told reporters that during his recent visit to the region, he was "deeply struck" by the impact of the crisis on ordinary citizens and the scale of the challenge facing the international community.
"The effect of the devastating HIV/AIDS pandemic and other factors means that we must take a multi-sectoral approach to the crisis," he said. "That is, food aid is going to be the key element but it must be complemented with non-food assistance such as health, nutrition, water, sanitation and other programmes."
In related news, the Secretary-General today appointed James Morris, the Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), as his Special Envoy on the humanitarian crisis in southern Africa. Mr. Morris will travel to the region and work with the Governments to review the humanitarian situation, current relief efforts and contingency planning, in order to ensure coherent and complete response to the crisis.