Accessibility links

Interview with Bruce Wilkinson - 2002-06-12


Many people in southern Africa are suffering from starvation, and the current United Nations Food Summit is seeking solutions. In a VOA-TV interview with Bruce Wilkinson, Senior Vice President for International Programmes of World Vision, an international relief organization, we explored the problems in southern Africa and the need for food aid. NewsLine’s David Borgida spoke with Mr. Wilkinson about efforts to lessen the human tragedy in Africa.

MR. BORGIDA:
Joining us now to discuss this situation, Bruce Wilkinson of World Vision, a humanitarian relief aid group. Thank you, Mr. Wilkinson, for joining us today.

Obviously, a very, very serious problem, a problem that, as many observers are noting, is now exacerbated by AIDS. Tell us about that dynamic.

MR. WILKINSON:
David, in the Southern Africa region, you know that most of the countries have very high prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS. And of course HIV/AIDS prevalence rates with famine conditions means that people aren't getting the nutrition that they need to survive and their bodies are stressed. And then, people who have the infection, of course this then brings on the onslaught of AIDS, and then it brings on their passing away. And so it's really sad, because the children will not be with their parents that much longer if people are HIV/AIDS infected.

So, again, it really does present another overlay onto a famine situation and it really is going to be sad. It is going to be very difficult. That is why we need to get the food there soonest. That is why we need to take action very quickly, because this is a different dimension of a famine. We have never seen this in the world before. Some of these countries have prevalence rates of between 15 and 25 percent in Southern Africa.

MR. BORGIDA:
Mr. Wilkinson, about how much food aid is needed at this point even just to get close to helping those who are on the brink?

MR. WILKINSON:
We need 1.2 million metric tons immediately; 1.2 million tons is a lot of food, but we need that immediately. That is what we are estimating would be necessary up through March. Then, after that, we're estimating anywhere between 2 million and 4 million, depending on next year's crops in these kinds of conditions. But we need 1.2 million, and right now in the pipeline is only about 300,000 metric tons. So we really need to have a pipeline that can guarantee 1.2 million metric tons.

MR. BORGIDA:
Let's talk for a moment now about the Food Summit in Rome which is concluding this week. Do relief groups believe that this has been a success in some way? It has elevated the issue, and certainly more and more people are aware of the starvation problem in Southern Africa, but is it really responsive to what's going on on the ground?

MR. WILKINSON:
There is this great debate around that. In fact, what we believe at World Vision is we need more attention on hunger issues around the world and on food production issues around the world. So it is good what's happening in Rome.

The 25 past years have shown us that we have decreased the number of people who are hungry in this world. Actually, even with the increase in population, the number of hungry people in the world has decreased. So that is a good sign. However, it's still not adequate, because there are still many hungry people out there. And this famine in Southern Africa just demonstrates once again we're not doing enough in terms of hunger-related causes -- which is we need ag production, we need people to get back on the land, producing and having good results.

MR. BORGIDA:
We talked a moment ago about the impact that AIDS is having on the crisis, but certainly politics in Southern Africa plays a huge role in what's going on there -- in Zimbabwe, a civil war in Angola. Talk about the impact of politics in that region, where just getting a day's food is tough enough.

MR. WILKINSON:
Many of these people are living on less than a dollar a day. And you can imagine trying to provide food for your family on less than a dollar a day. These people are actually working on soils that have been depleted. They need to have soils that actually are rich in nutrients so they can produce the food they need. I worked in Africa for 17 years, and you saw the degradation of the soils. The instability in places like Angola and Zimbabwe, this again creates another whole overlay of conditions which are unfavorable.

And guess who suffers? It's the women and it's the children. It's the vulnerable populations. It's those who have HIV/AIDS.

We've also seen a net decrease in the production of foodstuffs. Why? Because many of the people are ill because of HIV/AIDS. And so they are not able to go to the farm to produce the food. So that further exacerbates the problem.

MR. BORGIDA:
It's a horrible cycle certainly. One of the topics that some of the officials in Rome have been talking about are such things as genetically modified crops and so forth. Is there a place for that more forward-looking high technology kind of agriculture in Southern Africa or will that just be useless given the environment?

MR. WILKINSON:
Oh, no. There is lots of potential in Southern Africa for crop production. There is huge potential. In fact, they have water resources normally in the region. They actually have lakes and reservoirs they could use for irrigated agriculture. They also have cash crops which actually can generate cash to purchase food when they're running on hard times. So, again, it is not a question of the land not producing, but the land has to be taken care of and there has to be good policies by the government in place to encourage people to get back on the land and produce the food that the people need.

MR. BORGIDA:
In the last 30 seconds or so that we have, do you have high expectations for the West and relief agencies coming to the rescue or will this problem just get worse in the next month or so?

MR. WILKINSON:
Of course, the problem is probably getting worse right now. But World Vision believes, along with agencies like USAID and the World Food Program, we believe we can reverse the situation. It will take massive action on the part of the donors, on the part of the communities, and World Vision and other NGO's are standing by to help. And so we are there, we're helping. And there always has to be hope, David. We need hope in this world. And these people are very resilient people. They will pull through this again, and they will be back up on their feet. We want to be there to help them to do that.

MR. BORGIDA:
The views of Bruce Wilkinson of World Vision. Mr. Wilkinson, thanks so much for joining us today.

MR. WILKINSON:
Thank you, David.

XS
SM
MD
LG