UN agencies call for ‘decisive action’ to mitigate deepening crisis in southern Africa

UN agencies call for ‘decisive action’ to mitigate deepening crisis in southern Africa

Hungry people in southern Africa
Stressing that it takes more than good will to save lives, the heads of the major United Nations and other global humanitarian agencies today called on the international community to respond decisively to the human tragedy unfolding in Southern Africa as a result of a combination of severe drought, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and growing poverty.

A statement issued by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) warns that all indications point towards nothing short of a decimation of populations in their most productive years, and the prospect of economic collapse and insecurity in the foreseeable future. “Let us not turn our heads away and become tacit accomplices in an otherwise preventable tragedy,” the statement said.

According to the statement, which was also supported by the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), without a massive infusion of money and a greatly expanded effort by the affected countries in collaboration with the international community, the future prospects for the 60 million people living in southern Africa “hold little hope.” Unless prompt and decisive action is taken immediately, an estimated 20 per cent of the adult population – 12 million people – will die prematurely just from HIV/AIDS.

Vowing to redouble their individual and joint agency responses to promote a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach to this unprecedented crisis, the agency heads also outlined priorities for the wider international community. The response, they said, must combine food assistance and new approaches to farming, along with prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS.

The agencies welcomed the joint mission to the southern African region by James Morris, Special Envoy of Secretary-General Kofi Annan for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, and Stephen Lewis, Mr. Annan’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. The mission will consult widely with humanitarian and development agencies to determine how best the UN system and international community can assist those at risk, especially women. It will also examine strategies to support governments in the region in their efforts to address structural weaknesses in the provision of social services.

Meanwhile, Mr. Morris, who is also the Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), wrapped up his mission to Ethiopia and welcomed generous new contributions to help that country. He warned, however, that there was “no time to lose” as available food aid supplies would start to run out during the peak of the drought crisis. The needs were so colossal, “even a brief interruption in deliveries could spell death for the most vulnerable,” he said.

Upon his departure from Ethiopia today, Mr. Morris will travel to Johannesburg to kick off the seven-day joint mission in the southern Africa region.