Long-term problems persist for southern Africa

Published on 02 February 2006

James T. Morris, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, has said that southern Africa may be on the cusp of better harvests but the underlying causes of the region’s four-year crisis still remain and must be addressed.

Morris, on a five-day visit to the region, said that while recent good rainfalls could mean better agricultural production for some countries, a lot would depend upon the amount of seeds and fertilizer that were distributed during the planting season as well as weather patterns over the coming months.

A better harvest will not reduce HIV/AIDS rates, or provide education or supply clean water to an orphaned child

James T. Morris, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa

“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 Morris.

Deeper issues

“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.

“The humanitarian sector and donors all need to focus on the broader and deeper issues facing the region, regardless of what happens with the next harvests,” Morris added.

In Swaziland it is now estimated that among pregnant women aged 25-29 years, as many as 56 percent are HIV positive.

Worsening epidemic

In Mozambique the epidemic is worsening with the national HIV prevalence rate increasing from 14 percent in 2002 to 16 percent in 2004.

Zimbabwe has witnessed a welcome decline in the HIV/AIDS rate, from 26 percent in 2002 to 21 percent in 2004 – which is an encouraging trend, but still a significant challenge.

Acute malnutrition in children has increased in most countries, signaling a need for better nutritional safety nets and vigilance in food security.

Holistic approach

Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe are all experiencing outbreaks of cholera, showing that clean water, sanitation and vaccinations, particularly for children, are still widely needed.

And across southern Africa, while nearly 300,000 people are receiving antiretrovirals (ARV) treatment for HIV/AIDS there are still nearly two million people who require them.

“Universal access to prevention, treatment and care for people living with HIV/AIDS is as critical as ensuring people get enough to eat and that children get an education,” said Morris.

The humanitarian sector and donors all need to focus on the broader and deeper issues facing the region, regardless of what happens with the next harvests

James T. Morris, U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa

“There is also a shortage of trained professionals to oversee all these critical services, so when we look at humanitarian response we must remember that it can’t be one intervention over another, it has to be a holistic approach if we are to make a sustainable impact,” he said.

HIV/AIDS support

The Special Envoy has spent the last two days in Mozambique meeting with Government officials, UN agencies, and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners.

During his stay there he also visited several projects where he saw first-hand how humanitarian aid was helping to make a difference.

At the UN-supported Maputo Paediatric Day Hospital, where malnourished children living with HIV and AIDS receive nutritional care, ARV drugs and counseling, Morris met with young people at a youth-friendly health centre that offers free voluntary counseling and testing, peer education on HIV/AIDS prevention and referral support.

He leaves tomorrow for a two-day visit to Malawi where he will also meet government officials, UN agencies, and NGOs.

Heartened yet staggered

He will also visit projects outside Lilongwe to meet people affected by HIV/AIDS who are receiving assistance from the international community.

“Every time I come to southern Africa I am heartened by the progress being made by Governments, the UN, NGOs and other partners to improve the livelihoods of the poorest people in the region,” Morris said.

“At the same time I am staggered at the length of road we still need to travel to ensure every man, woman and child has access to basic needs and services.”

Morris is on his sixth trip to southern Africa since becoming the UN Special Envoy for the region in July 2002, several months after being appointed Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme.