The ongoing food crisis in southern Africa – currently threatening millions of people with shortages – has worsened, placing even more at risk, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan’s Special Envoy for the humanitarian situation in the region said today.
Just back from a two-week mission to southern Africa, James T. Morris announced that an additional 1.6 million people in the region are in urgent need of food aid and other humanitarian assistance over the next seven months, bringing the total to 14.4 million.
“These new figures confirm what the team and I witnessed during our mission: the humanitarian crisis is not only devastatingly real, it is also worsening faster than was originally projected,” said Mr. Morris, who led a team of technical experts in assessing the problem. “This crisis must be an absolute top priority for the international community.”
Officials blame the increasing numbers on limited supplies of maize. Because food imports have been lower than originally projected, prices have soared across the board. In addition, policies on critical issues such as market liberalization and land reform, which are leading to greater food insecurity, have yet to be resolved by governments.
Underlying the food crisis is the untold tragedy of families who are being destroyed by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, according to the UN. The situation is characterized by elderly grandparents caring for children and orphans. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that the pandemic is causing the number of orphans to rise dramatically, to 4.2 million in the six worst-affected countries.
“This is a very, very different crisis than anything we've seen before – HIV/AIDS is laying siege to entire communities, decimating the workforce and putting an even heavier strain on already over-burdened and weak healthcare systems,” Mr. Morris said.
The UN has received 36 per cent of the $507 million it requested for food aid to southern Africa. On the non-food side, however, only $12 million has been pledged, and the world body is warning that without funding for urgently needed supplies, the risk of disease outbreak and a prolongation of the crisis will be inevitable.