- Southern Africa may be on the cusp of better harvests but the causes of the region's four-year crisis still need to be addressed, a UN envoy monitoring relief needs said today in Johannesburg. Almost ten million people still depend on food aid in the region, and one expected good harvest will not be sufficient to end the crisis.
"I wish the problems of this region could be easily solved, but the reality is that many millions of people will face extreme difficulties even if there are better harvests this year," said James Morris, who UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's humanitarian envoy in the Southern African region and heads the UN's World Food Programme (WFP).
"A better harvest will not reduce HIV/AIDS rates, or provide education or supply clean water to an orphaned child, or ensure kids get vaccinated against simple childhood diseases," he said, urging attention to the deeper issues facing the region. Southern Africa is in the acute phase of a long-term emergency due to a combination of HIV/AIDS, food insecurity and the governments' weakened capacity for delivering basic social services, according to WFP, which calls this trend the "Triple Threat".
Countries in southern Africa have nine of the 10 highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world, forcing many families to choose medicines over seeds and fertilizers. In Swaziland it is now estimated that among pregnant women aged 25-29 years, as many as 56 percent are HIV positive. In Mozambique the epidemic is worsening with the national HIV prevalence rate increasing from 14 percent in 2002 to 16 percent in 2004.
The region also has endured a four-year drought, broken last month by heavy rains in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe that have brought on flooding, displacing thousands of people, exacerbating cholera and malaria outbreaks, and washing away newly planted crops.
While recent good rainfalls could mean better agricultural yields in some countries, Mr Morris cautioned that this could hinge on the amount of seeds and fertilizer distributed during the planting season and on future weather patterns.
WFP currently assists up to 9.2 million people in six Southern African countries through the annual hunger season until April. The UN agency, asking for cash donations, said it has a funding shortfall of US$ 63 million for operations lasting till June.
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