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HIV/AIDS and poor weather drive Zambians to the edge

LUSAKA - HIV/AIDS and poor weather have combined to drive many Zambians already struggling to cope with chronic poverty, food insecurity and an ever increasing number of orphans to the limit, requiring a significant increase in international assistance over the year ahead, said James T. Morris, the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa.

The country experienced prolonged dry spells over the last growing season resulting in dramatically reduced crop yields - up to 90 percent in some districts of the country. Compounding the crisis is the HIV/AIDS epidemic which is undermining the country's ability to respond to the humanitarian needs. Life expectancy in Zambia has also declined from a high of 52 years of age in 1980 to an estimated 37 years in 2005.

"Zambia has made progress in strengthening its agricultural output over the last two years, it is unfortunate that these severe dry spells have had a massive impact on this year's production," said James T. Morris, UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa. "Sadly, it is a pattern that we are seeing in many parts of Southern Africa and widespread relief assistance will be required."

Currently, the Government of Zambia, the Food and Agricultural Ogranisation, WFP, and non-government organizations are analyzing assessment results to determine the extent of the country's agricultural shortfall and the number of people who will require food assistance over the next year. Results are expected early next month.

In the last two years, Zambia produced significant maize surpluses enabling the World Food Programme (WFP) to purchase over 150,000 tonnes of food worth $30 million. In a dramatic turn around, a similar quantity will be required this year to assist around 1.5 million distressed people in Zambia.

Nearly one in every five adults, or 16.5 percent of the population, is infected by HIV/AIDS, and an estimated 300 people die every single day due to related causes. UNICEF estimates that more than 1 million children are orphans. The virus is having a devastating impact on Zambia's children who are being robbed of guidance, emotional nurturing and development and are often left alone to fend for themselves on the streets.

"It's an absolute tragedy that in today's day and age, we are not able to stop the suffering of children when it's within our ability to respond," said Morris, who is on his fourth visit to Zambia since becoming Special Envoy in 2002. "Government policies must be adopted to protect these children and the international community must help preserve and protect these innocent lives while we still have the opportunity."

HIV/AIDS is also having a severe impact on the country's human resources, particularly trained health specialists who are desperately needed to help fight the effects of the pandemic. The education and agricultural sectors have also been particularly hard hit, leading the government to recently state that it was no longer able to replace teachers lost each month to the virus.

The complexity of the humanitarian situation in Zambia, which is compounded by the country's large debt burden, requires that Government, the UN and NGOs to redouble efforts to address the challenges and devise a multi-sectored response.

During his two-day visit to Zambia, the Special Envoy met with President Mwanawasa, Government officials, the UN country team, non-government organisations and members of the donor community. He also visited Chongwe District where he saw a community school and farmland devastated by the dry weather and water shortages.

Morris was appointed UN Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa in July 2002, three months after he joined the UN World Food Programme as Executive Director. Zambia is the first stop on an eleven-day four-nation visit to southern Africa.

Zambia: May 22- 24
Johannesburg: May 25 - International press conference
Malawi: May 26-27
Botswana: May 29-30
Johannesburg: May 31 - Donor meeting
Zimbabwe: June 1


A major press conference will be held in Johannesburg on June 25, 14:30 am (Park Hyatt, Rosebank). B-roll will be available at the event.

For more information contact:

Mike Huggins
(traveling with the S. Envoy)
Tel: +27-11-517-1662 (office)
Tel: +27 832-913-750 (cell)

Mickie Mumba
UNIC Lusaka
Tel: 097-803-875 (cell)

Jo Woods
WFP Zambia
Tel: 097-770-386 (cell)