Poverty, Food Shortages, AIDS Destroying Societies in Southern Africa, U.N. Special Envoy Says
HIV/AIDS, food shortages, poverty and a public administration and services crisis are creating a "death spiral" in sub-Saharan Africa, resulting in millions of orphans and destabilized conditions, James Morris, director of the World Food Programme and U.N. special envoy for humanitarian need in Southern Africa, said on Tuesday, the Washington Post reports. "What is happening in Southern Africa absolutely represents the most serious humanitarian crisis in the world today," Morris said during a news conference in Johannesburg at the close of his week-long tour of South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Namibia (Timberg, Washington Post, 6/23). There are approximately 30 million HIV-positive people in Southern Africa, and the disease is killing farmers, health workers, teachers and other social service professionals. The average life expectancy of people in the region is only 46 years, and 11 million children in the region are orphans, according to the AP/Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Zavis, AP/Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 6/23). "The number of trained health practitioners, teachers and other professionals that are succumbing to HIV/AIDS is causing a truly extraordinary human resources vacuum across the region," Morris said, adding, "It is a tragedy of unrivaled proportions that is destroying the ability of countries to effectively deal with the [AIDS] pandemic and food insecurity" (Innocenti, Financial Times, 6/22).
Morris "reserved some of his strongest language" to describe conditions in Zimbabwe, where life expectancy has fallen to 33 years because the country has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world, the Post reports. Morris said that in the coming year, up to five million Zimbabweans may suffer from hunger, according to the Post (Washington Post, 6/23). Morris expressed disappointment that he had to postpone a planned visit to Zimbabwe, which made senior officials unavailable to meet with him, according to the AP/Star-Telegram (AP/Fort Worth Start-Telegram, 6/23). Morris said that Zimbabwe's ability to produce food will be hindered by HIV/AIDS, adding that the United Nations will be prepared with emergency aid if the harvest does not meet expectations. "If they can go from such a food deficit to being able to feed their own population, it would be one of the most remarkable and unprecedented turnarounds in history," Morris said (Financial Times, 6/22). However, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said last month that the country expects to almost triple its harvest after years of severe drought and land resettlement, VOA News reports (Robertson, VOA News, 6/22).