Global perspective Human stories

UN officials call for more action as southern African crisis enters 'acute phase'

UN officials call for more action as southern African crisis enters 'acute phase'

With an unprecedented crisis "triple threat" stalking southern Africa – HIV/AIDS, food insecurity and a massively depleted skilled labour force – senior United Nations relief officials today called for the world to refocus its attention on the chronic problems and humanitarian needs of millions of desperate people in the region.

"Emergencies come and go, but we are now in an acute phase of a chronic problem and the effects of this are going to be with us for generations to come," said James Morris, the UN Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, who is in the region on an 11-day, four-nation assessment mission along with Ann Veneman, Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

"This is not about one issue or one country. Many factors are converging to undermine livelihoods of millions of people in southern Africa," said Mr. Morris, adding: "The complexity of the situation demands that we must do all we can to help Governments in the region."

The HIV/AIDS-driven aspects of the crisis are now considered so grave that Mr. Morris called 10 UN country representatives in the region to Johannesburg, South Africa, for a special review meeting today to examine current interventions, joint programming, UN reform, and the strategies to address the multiple impacts of the triple threat.

"It's crucial that we reverse the downward spiral on child survival in this region. There are remarkable local initiatives across the region to prevent the spread of AIDS from mother to child," said Ms. Veneman. "By expanding these successful models we can reduce the number of infants contracting HIV." She added that treatment for HIV-positive children and adults is a critical element of the regional response. "Keeping more parents alive means fewer children orphaned by AIDS," she said.

Ms. Veneman is the first UNICEF chief to visit Swaziland, the tiny African nation that suffers from of one of the world's highest HIV prevalence rates, with about 38 per cent of the adult population carrying the virus. After visiting yesterday with children orphaned by the virus – many now caring for frail grandparents or older relatives and unable to attend school – she emphasized the need to focus attention on children, for the benefit of all humankind.

Joining the UN leaders in their call for action was Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), who said that over the 20-year span of the AIDS epidemic, it had become clear that an exceptional response is required. "We need to make sure that HIV prevention, food security and HIV treatment are integrated into a comprehensive response. This is the only way to get ahead of the epidemic. We must aim for universal access to HIV prevention and treatment."