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Life Expectancy Drops Dramatically in Zambia

The U.N. children's fund says a new report shows a dramatic drop in life expectancy in Zambia, one of six southern African nations severely affected by AIDS, drought and famine.

A spokesman for UNICEF, Marc Vergara, says poverty, drought and HIV-AIDS are responsible for the dramatic decline in life expectancy in Zambia, especially among adults. "In the space of only 10 years, between 1990 and 2000, the life expectancy in Zambia has dropped by 11 years from around 52 years to 40.5, an enormous drop in life expectancy due of course to poverty," he said. "Zambia is one of the poorest countries in the world with around 86 percent of the population living below the poverty line."

UNICEF says HIV-AIDS is now the leading cause of death in Zambia with 20 percent of the adult population infected. The children's agency says the disease is crippling the nation's economy. And the impact on children is devastating. Studies show that 30 percent of all Zambian children are orphaned by HIV-AIDS.

Mr. Vergara says the deepening levels of poverty are eroding the ability of families to cope with this crisis. He says the extended families that used to take care of orphans in the past are no longer able to do so. "There is no adult anymore to take charge of the children, mostly because of the HIV-AIDS impact which forces the children to look after younger children and forces the children to drop out of school," said Mr. Vergara.

UNICEF says school attendance in many parts of Zambia has dropped from 70 percent to 50 percent. In one area, the southern Siovonga district, a recent survey shows that in the space of only six months school attendance has fallen from 75 to 17 percent. The survey notes that Zambia's education system is also suffering because many teachers are dying from HIV-AIDS. And because of acute malnutrition, the UNICEF spokesman says, children in Zambia have few reserves to carry them through what he calls an extended hunger season.