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Southern Africa food crisis growing at faster than anticipated pace, UN envoy says

Southern Africa food crisis growing at faster than anticipated pace, UN envoy says

James T. Morris
The food crisis in southern Africa has accelerated at a much faster than anticipated pace, as the number of hungry people in the region has swelled by 1.6 million from earlier estimates, the United Nations envoy for the emergency said today.

James Morris, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Envoy for the humanitarian situation in southern Africa, said that 14.4 million people were presently at risk, up from the 12.8 million previously cited as vulnerable.

Mr. Morris, who had just returned from the six most-affected countries – Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia – told reporters at a press briefing that the trip was an “extraordinary experience.”

Apart from suffering unfavourable weather conditions that had caused drought and sometimes floods, the region is afflicted by HIV/AIDS, Mr. Morris said, describing it as “a crisis within the crisis” and one that had been made worse by governance and other political difficulties.

At least half of the 4.2 million orphans of the crisis had been so categorized because HIV/AIDS had taken both parents, the Special Envoy added. In addition to changing the lifestyle in the affected countries, the disease has also wiped out the productive level of the communal agricultural society. The situation had had a severe emotional and cultural impact. “It’s a staggering combination,” he said.

Meanwhile, even in the face of substantial support from the international community, Mr. Morris appealed for donor countries to be as helpful as they could. Of the $611 million needed by the UN to deal with the crisis, $507 million would be used for food aid. While about 40 per cent of the money for food had been committed, and another 35 per cent was in the final stages of negotiations, the remaining 25 percent had to be firmed up, he said. And with the planting season imminent, resources were also needed for seeds, fertilizers and agricultural implements.

“We’re trying to get an awful lot done quickly,” Mr. Morris explained. Consequently, an office with 80 staff members had been set up in Johannesburg, South Africa, to deal with logistical and other problems.