Brussels - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today launched an appeal for US$404 million to support a monthly average of 1.5 million people in five southern African countries ravaged by the "triple threat" of food shortages, high HIV/AIDS rates and weakened capacity for governance.
The three-year operation, requiring an immediate US$63 million to help people survive the ‘hunger season' in the first quarter of 2005, is designed to support families and individuals who are increasingly vulnerable to food insecurity and HIV/AIDS in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia.
Launching the appeal in the heart of the European Union, WFP's Regional Director for Southern Africa, Mike Sackett, said that southern Africa was on a downward spiral from which it could only escape if governments and the international community tackled problems head on.
"The media spotlight may have moved elsewhere, but the people of southern Africa will carry the scars of the last few years for generations to come," Sackett said. "If we don't step in now with support, there's a very real danger that southern Africa will descend into a perpetual cycle of tragedy, with children missing out on education and vital agricultural knowledge being lost."
WFP launched its first southern Africa emergency appeal in July 2002. A second emergency appeal followed a year later and will run through to 31 December. The two operations, valued at a total of US$856 million, averted a humanitarian catastrophe by providing food aid at the height of the crisis to more than 10 million people in February and March 2003.
However, tens of thousands of families still face severe difficulties and cannot recover without help. The new appeal aims to feed a cumulative 5.5 million people over the three-year period, with a peak of 2.8 million people needing assistance in the first quarter of 2005.
The five countries account for half of the ten highest adult prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS in the world, a growing number of orphans (1.77 million so far), and rapidly declining life expectancy.
Earlier this year, the UN Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, WFP Executive Director James Morris, said the pandemic had become "a tragedy of unrivalled proportions" with the rising death toll undermining hospitals, schools and the agricultural sector.
According to the UNDP Human Development Report 2004, 17 countries in the world had negative Human Development Index growth between 1995 and 2002. Eight of them were in southern Africa, including Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland and Zambia (covered by the appeal ) which does not bode well for those struggling to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
In addition, an average 80 percent of people across Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia each live on less than US$2 per day. Two-thirds of the populations of Swaziland and Lesotho live below the poverty line.
About one-third of the funds needed by WFP will support food relief, while two-thirds will be used to mitigate the effects of HIV/AIDS and alleviate chronic food insecurity. Recovery activities will include school feeding, helping malnourished children, food-for-work and food-for-training programmes, as well as support for patients with tuberculosis and people receiving anti-retroviral treatment.
More than 50 percent of the population in the five countries live in rural areas and depend on small-scale rain-fed agriculture and are therefore very vulnerable to the erratic weather patterns of recent years.
Almost two million people in Lesotho, Swaziland and Malawi will again rely on emergency food aid in the first half of 2005 due to the drought-induced failure of the 2004 harvest. Even in Zambia and Mozambique, which both had above-average harvests, hundreds of thousands of people will still be unable to get enough food or funds to provide for themselves.
As a result of the hardships of the past two years, few households have resources left to sell to purchase food on the open market, meet the rising cost of education and healthcare or invest in agriculture.
"The ability to access critical amounts of food remains one of the biggest challenges faced by millions of people in this region every day, and clearly the magnitude of the problem is far outstripping the ability of countries to cope," Sackett said.
"This is why governments have asked WFP to set up these programmes to ensure the most vulnerable people have the best chance possible of rebuilding their livelihoods," he added.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
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