|Southern Africa seen in "death spiral" on AIDS, food shortages
|JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Southern Africa is in a death spiral as AIDS exacerbates food shortages and government and social networks teeter close to collapse, the head of the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday.|
"If a 747 aircraft crashed every hour, there’d be an international outcry. That’s the death toll we’re facing but there is inadequate collective outrage," WFP Executive Director James Morris said at the end of a tour in the region, the worst hit worldwide by the global AIDS epidemic.
"The end result is that people are dying on a horrific scale and its victims are not getting the help they need."
Morris, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan’s special envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, said there were some signs of progress in food production, with Zambia enjoying a surplus and governments implementing emergency programmes.
But he said he was concerned about politically troubled Zimbabwe, which announced in May it no longer needed emergency food aid amid surprise projections of a bumper maize harvest of 2.3 million tonnes – despite earlier international estimates of a shortfall of up to 900,000 tonnes.
"We will do our best to be prepared in the event that their expectations don’t materialise. We hope they do," he said.
Southern Africa has the world’s highest rates of infection of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, with an average of one quarter of adults in the region infected.
In tiny Swaziland, a startling 38 percent of adults are believed to be HIV positive, while South Africa alone has more than five million people infected.
"What is happening in Southern Africa absolutely represents the most serious humanitarian crisis in the world today," Morris said.
Morris said "help is on the way" for the region’s food crisis – which at its height in mid-2002 saw an estimated 14 million people in need of help – but that the crisis was becoming chronic as countries struggle to implement programmes and produce food with a weakened infrastructure.
Overall, he said there was good progress in food production despite total crop forecasts slightly below last year’s levels.
Zambia, thanks to good weather and programmes to deliver seeds, tools and fertiliser to farmers, was the best performer. The WFP had bought a total of some 160,000 tonnes of food over the last two years from Zambia, which in 2002 saw as many as three million people needing food aid, Morris said.
Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe’s government is accused of political repression and economic mismanagement, remains a question mark. The WFP helped to feed some 6.5 million Zimbabweans in 2003, but has seen that number drop to just 640,000 this month as the government withdraws cooperation.
Zimbabwe effectively blocked the WFP from finishing a crop assessment there this year, and has since publicly charged the world food