The future of southern Africa is dependent upon governments in the region halting the effects of HIV/AIDS and ensuring orphans receive good nutrition, education and care, said James T. Morris, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa.
Southern Africa has nine of the ten highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world and more than 3.3 million orphans due to the virus; this combination is straining government budgets for health care and social services, food security, education, communities and extended families.
According to UNICEF, the proportion of orphans in southern Africa is growing faster than anywhere else in the world.
“The region has come a long way in the last five years, but there are still enormous challenges,” said Morris, who is making his eighth and final trip to the region.
“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.”
“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,” Morris said.
On the brink
Southern Africa must turn this corner so that the scars of HIV/AIDS do not continue to drag down this region, and its people, for generations to come.
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. Yet in the first quarter of 2007, 4.3 million people in southern Africa will still require food aid from WFP – most of them are women and children.
The decline in food aid needs is attributed to better harvests stemming from less erratic rains and an improved availability of seeds and fertiliser.
However, despite better agricultural production, many people still face shortages, either because they were unable to grow enough food due to availability or costs of seeds and fertilisers; they lack access to adequate land; or policy reforms are needed to enable market access to increase food availability.
In the last seven days, the Special Envoy has visited Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe where he met with government officials, UN agencies, non-governmental organisations and donors.
He noted progress was being made with anti-retroviral rollouts in all countries, including a near nine-fold increase in drug disbursement in Malawi from 8,000 people in January 2005 to 70,000 people this month.
Long way to go
Children are also being reached for the first time. However, all countries in the region have a long way to go to meet demand.
Zimbabwe has also made great strides in reducing its average HIV prevalence rate, which has steadily fallen from a high of 25 percent a few years ago to 18.1 percent now. In addition, child and infant mortality have both improved while maternal mortality has worsened considerably, primarily due to HIV/AIDS.
Both Malawi and Zambia, which have recently graduated from being Heavily Indebted Poor Countries, have either qualified to receive, or are about to receive, significant debt relief, that will allow them to increase social protection programmes or improve civil society capacity.
“These are milestone achievements in this region and I sincerely hope the opportunities they afford are used to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS and improve the situation of orphans and vulnerable children,” Morris said.
“Southern Africa must turn this corner so that the scars of HIV/AIDS do not continue to drag down this region, and its people, for generations to come. Opportunities to make a difference must be seized now.”
Morris will leave for Mozambique, the last leg of his mission, on 13 December. He became UN Special Envoy for southern Africa in July 2002, several months after being appointed Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme. He will retire from both posts early in the New Year.