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Southern Africa’s future depends on tackling impact of HIV/AIDS – senior UN official

Southern Africa’s future depends on tackling impact of HIV/AIDS – senior UN official

James Morris
With more than 3.3 million children in southern Africa already orphaned by HIV/AIDS, the region’s future depends on governments’ halting the disease’s effects and ensuring that orphans receive good nutrition, education and care, a senior United Nations humanitarian official said today.

“Until the HIV/AIDS pandemic is brought under control and orphans have an environment in which they can put their lives back together, southern Africa will continue to struggle to make long-term development gains and break the poverty cycle,”

James T. Morris, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, told a news conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, today.

“Countries need also to embrace crop diversification, improve access to clean water and sanitation, and improve the plight of women who are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS and carry the burden of household and farming responsibilities,” he added.

Mr. Morris, who is also the Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and is making a farewell tour of the region before stepping down, noted that southern Africa had come a long way in the five years since his appointment as Special Envoy. “But there are still enormous challenges,” he warned.

The region has nine of the 10 highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world and this, combined with the more than 3.3 million AIDS orphans, is straining government budgets for health care and social services, food security, education, communities and extended families. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the proportion of orphans in southern Africa is growing faster than anywhere else in the world.

In 2002, southern Africa teetered on the brink of one of the worst humanitarian crises the region has ever seen, with more than 14 million people needing assistance across six countries. Serious loss of life was averted by unprecedented coordination in the humanitarian response and generosity of donors, particularly the United States, the European Union and its member states, Australia, Canada, Japan and South Africa.

Since then, the number of people requiring food aid has steadily decreased, but in the first quarter of 2007, 4.3 million people in the region will still require WFP food, most of them are women and children.

The decline in aid needs is attributed to better harvests stemming from less erratic rains and an improved availability of seeds and fertiliser, but many people still face shortages, either because they lacked seeds and fertilizers or access to adequate land.

In the last week, Mr. Morris, a United States citizen, has visited Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe and was due to move on to Mozambique today. His term as WFP head officially ends on 5 April and he will be succeeded by Josette Sheeran Shiner, US Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs.