The United Nations today launched an appeal for more than half a billion dollars for southern Africa to provide life-saving assistance for 6.5 million people severely weakened by consecutive failed harvests, extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS.
"Because of the quick response from the international community, the UN and its NGO (non-governmental organization) partners saved millions of lives threatened by starvation in southern Africa over the past year. But the crisis is not over and I urge donors to remember hundreds of thousands of families, many of them in Zimbabwe, who are still in grave danger," said James Morris, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in southern Africa.
The 2003-2004 Regional Consolidated Appeal (CAP), bringing together eight UN agencies with NGOs and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), is seeking $530 million – $320 million for food and $210 million for other aid – for 6.5 million vulnerable people in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In addition to food aid, the 12-month appeal also seeks to fund water and sanitation, agriculture, education and health projects.
Although the response to last year’s CAP and an improved harvest this year have brought some respite, many parts of the six countries remain extremely fragile. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to sell household items and livestock to survive last year's crisis and cannot afford to buy food is now available in markets.
Not only is HIV/AIDS killing millions of people prematurely, it is also wiping out the most productive members of society – farmers, teachers, health workers – leaving behind millions of orphans, widows, widowers and elderly. As a result, decades of development gains have been lost and efforts to reduce poverty and improve living standards have been severely undermined. The total number of AIDS orphans in the six countries is estimated to be over 2.3 million, and that number is rising fast.
"Even if rains begin to improve, as they did in parts of the region during the last season, how will fields be planted if there are no farmers to till the soil?" said Mr. Morris, who is Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP). "The world cannot afford to avert its gaze from southern Africa right now. If it does, we will see an accelerated and irreversible unravelling of societies across the region."
Anne Bauer, Director of the Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said: “The worst is not over yet. Many of the most vulnerable rural families are still relying on international assistance for their immediate survival in the months to come. The impact of HIV/AIDS on agricultural production is devastating. The pandemic is driving entire households and communities to levels of destitution and misery from which they cannot recover without assistance.”
FAO noted that an estimated 15 million people, of whom 58 per cent are women, are living with HIV/AIDS in the six countries, and there are strong indications that the prevalence rates have not yet peaked. In 2001, half a million people died of AIDS-related diseases in the region.
Calling the situation dire, the Director of Emergency Programmes at the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), Nils Kastberg, said hundreds of thousands of people were selling what they had just to survive. The current appeal, which represented the strongest engagement of non-governmental organizations and the Red Cross with the UN so far, involved a greater emphasis on the distribution of seeds and fertilizers, as well as on education and water. In many cases, it was often girls that dropped out of school to help families get essential elements, such as water, he said.