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Southern Africa: Crops welcome but not sufficient

Expected crops in Southern Africa welcome but not sufficient to stem crisis – UN envoy

Southern Africa may be on the cusp of better harvests but the causes of the region’s four-year crisis still need to be addressed, a United Nations envoy monitoring relief needs said today in Johannesburg.

“I wish the problems of this region could be easily solved, but the reality is that many millions of people will face extreme difficulties even if there are better harvests this year,” said James Morris, who Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s humanitarian envoy in the region and heads the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP).

“A better harvest will not reduce HIV/AIDS rates, or provide education or supply clean water to an orphaned child, or ensure kids get vaccinated against simple childhood diseases,” he said, urging attention to the deeper issues facing the region. Southern Africa is in the acute phase of a long-term emergency due to a combination of HIV/AIDS, food insecurity and the governments’ weakened capacity for delivering basic social services, according to WFP, which calls this trend the “Triple Threat.”

Countries in southern Africa have nine of the 10 highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world, forcing many families to choose medicines over seeds and fertilizers.

The region also has endured a four-year drought, broken last month by heavy rains in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe that have brought on flooding, displacing thousands of people, exacerbating cholera and malaria outbreaks, and washing away newly planted crops.

While recent good rainfalls could mean better agricultural yields in some countries, Mr. Morris cautioned that this could hinge on the amount of seeds and fertilizer distributed during the planting season and on future weather patterns.

Mr. Morris is currently on a five-day trip ending on Saturday, he is scheduled to talk to the authorities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and visit projects that involve humanitarian aid. It is his sixth trip to the region since he became Special Envoy in July 2002.

“Every time I come to southern Africa I am heartened by the progress being made by governments, the UN, NGOs and other partners to improve the livelihoods of the poorest people in the region. At the same time I am staggered at the length of road we still need to travel to ensure every man, woman and child has access to basic needs and services,” he said.

WFP assists up to 9.2 million people in six southern African countries through the annual hunger season until April. The agency, asking for cash donations, said it has a funding shortfall of $63 million for operations lasting till June.

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