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Zambia's food and HIV crisis persist despite UN support

Zambia's food and HIV crisis persist despite UN support

Zambia faces another extremely challenging year, as the combined impact of food shortages and a high rate of HIV/AIDS continues to devastate communities despite international support, the United Nations said today.

The UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said 50,000 tons of UN-provided food, and around 27,000 tons of government-provided food relief were delivered to Zambia after two years of highly erratic rains reduced crop yield by 40 per cent. In addition around 60,000 farmers who had lost seed were able to plant this year.

Despite this aid, prospects for this season's crop are not optimum, with forecasters predicting that the moderate El Niño event in southern Africa could again significantly affect rainfall patterns, particularly in the south. It is also unlikely communities will recover quickly from food shortages even if the harvest from mid-April is relatively good, OCHA said. Recent studies in Africa have painted an alarming picture of the impact of chronic illness on a household's food security-reduced food production, depleted assets, and reduced labour.

The high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Zambia has resulted in a large population that is unable to meet its own needs, and often resorts to survival strategies that put women and children at growing risk of exploitation and HIV infection, OCHA said. Stocks of essential drugs were boosted and capacity building support to health and nutrition surveillance systems has begun, and will continue.

In the next six months, priorities include addressing the special needs of households affected by HIV/AIDS, reorienting food relief programmes so that food aid does not undermine the market during harvest time and improving rural health services in Zambia.