Drought and HIV/AIDS combine to prolong Lesotho’s misery, say UN agencies

4 March 2004

Lesotho’s humanitarian crisis has entered a third year because of another severe drought and the worsening impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the United Nations envoy to southern Africa warned today ahead of a visit by senior UN officials to the small landlocked State.

James T. Morris, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, said that hundreds of thousands of Basotho would need international assistance just to survive in 2004.

Mr. Morris is scheduled to arrive in Lesotho’s capital, Maseru, tomorrow for talks with government ministers and a tour of the worst-affected areas. He will be joined by Carol Bellamy, the Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Lesotho’s Government declared a state of emergency last month because of the imminent food shortages forced by the drought sweeping southern Africa. Early estimates indicate the country may only be able to produce 10 per cent of its annual cereal requirements, according to UN agencies.

The country also has the fourth highest adult prevalence rate for HIV/AIDS, with 31 per cent of Basotho adults infected. The agencies said 17 per cent of Lesotho’s children have been orphaned by the disease.

The agencies said the strong international response to UN appeals in 2002 and 2003 for emergency aid to Lesotho and five other Southern African countries prevented the situation from becoming a catastrophe.

But Mr. Morris cautioned that severe challenges remain. “Our work is far from finished,” he said. “After two years of real struggle and hardship, [the Basotho] will be even more at risk.”

Dr. Piot said the HIV/AIDS epidemic is destroying families and Lesotho has no chance of avoiding perpetual crisis unless the international community does more to help it combat the disease. “Drought has slashed Lesotho’s harvests over the past three years but HIV/AIDS is at the root of the food crisis – as well as of other crises in health and education,” he said.

Ms. Bellamy said it is essential that young children receive the right information, skills and support so that they can be protected from contracting HIV/AIDS and hold “a fighting chance of having a healthy and productive future.”

UNICEF has provided literacy kits to thousands of orphans and children not yet in school, while helping to finance programmes against measles and the mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.


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