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HIV/AIDS and hunger in Southern Africa

HIV/AIDS is aggravating chronic hunger in southern Africa and despite better harvests across the region, more than three million people will remain short of basic food supplies through to December.

HIV/AIDS is aggravating chronic hunger in southern Africa and despite better harvests across the region, more than three million people will remain short of basic food supplies through to December.

Orphans and other vulnerable children are a particular concern for WFP
James Morris, WFP Executive Director
The combination of grinding poverty and the world’s highest rates of HIV/AIDS prevented many people from growing enough food to last until the next harvest because they were too poor or ill to plant.

For those that still have meagre assets, many will be unable to afford food on the market when their stocks run out and prices begin to rise.

“It is great news that the region will have a reprieve from the major food deficits seen over the last few years,” said WFP Executive Director, James Morris, who is also the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy.

Good harvests not enough

“But as long as HIV/AIDS remains at such epic proportions throughout southern Africa, a large number of people will face severe hardship unless international assistance is provided. Good harvests do not necessarily mean people have enough to eat.”

More than six million people are estimated to be infected with the virus in Lesotho, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The number of orphans and child-headed households is also increasingly placing a heavy burden on family structures, communities, and the state. In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly half of all orphans due to HIV/AIDS live in these seven countries.

Too ill to work

Southern Africa has nine of the 10 highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world and many people are just too ill to work land or earn an income.

The small amount of cash in poor HIV/AIDS-affected families is usually spent on medicines to treat their loved ones and on funerals.

“Food and good nutrition are crucial in battling against HIV/AIDS but it is very tough to convince the international community of the complexity and depth of the pandemic in this region, especially when people’s misery is masked by green fields and good harvests,” Morris said.

“Orphans and other vulnerable children are a particular concern for WFP as most governments can’t cope with the overwhelming number of young people who need help,” Morris added.

“Food assistance for these children is their lifeline. Our support to them and the other vulnerable groups must be steadfast.”

WFP urgently needs funding to provide food assistance to some three million people in southern Africa through to December.

Lean season

By then, the number of families needing help could increase dramatically at the start of the ‘lean season,’ when they have exhausted their food stock and await harvesting of the main crop in April/May.

Southern Africa not only suffers from high levels of HIV/AIDS, food insecurity and chronic poverty, it also contends with a combination of the following: dependence on rain fed agriculture (90 percent of agriculture in the region is rainfed); non availability or poor access to seeds and fertilisers; high dependence on maize (crop diversification needed, maize is vulnerable to erratic weather); land resources are under utilised; diminishing support to farmers, poor infrastructure, especially in rural areas (roads, transport systems, markets, storage facilities); high incidence of pests and diseases for livestock and crops; and, low levels of investment and job opportunities.

At times over the last five years, WFP food has reached up to 13 million people suffering from widespread food shortages caused by erratic weather, poor government policies, economic stagnation and shortages of seeds and fertilisers.

During this period, many households were forced to sell assets such as chickens, goats, cattle and even their cooking pots to survive, so it can take families years to recover, unless they get assistance.

“Unlike crises elsewhere, the humanitarian challenges caused by HIV/AIDS in southern Africa will linger on for generations,” Morris said.

“Desperate hungry people should not have to compete for international assistance according to their level of deprivation. Turning away from people devastated by AIDS because of other crises should not be an option for the international community.”