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Southern African Famine Threat Sparks UN Appeal - 2003-07-29

The United Nations is appealing for $530 million for 6.5 million people in southern Africa who are threatened with famine. The hardest hit are people in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The United Nations says thanks to the quick response from the international community, millions of lives threatened by starvation in southern Africa were saved over the past year. But, aid agencies say the crisis is not over. They say millions of people who are severely weakened by poor harvests, extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS are still in grave danger.

Elizabeth Byrs is a spokeswoman for the U.N. office which coordinates humanitarian aid. She said the needs are particularly acute in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. "The inflation rate will reach by the end of the year 500 percent and the AIDS is leading to the death of more than 2,500 people per week which is quite a big concern for the humanitarian community. And, in Mozambique, the population in southern and central Mozambique are the most vulnerable," she said. "The requirements for Mozambique are about 97 percent higher in this year's appeal than the last year's appeal."

Besides food aid, much of the current appeal is focusing on providing assistance to millions of people devastated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Southern Africa has the highest levels of HIV/AIDS prevalence in the world.

The United Nations Children's Fund says the impact of the disease on children is especially damaging.

UNICEF Spokesman, Marc Vergara said nearly 2.5 million children in the six southern African countries have been orphaned by AIDS. "When you think that seven million people - mostly small farmers [or] small producers - died as a result of HIV/AIDS, the impact that it has on the families, on the enlarged communities is enormous because it means practically that when the parents are dead, you have the grandparents and the children taking care of the land," he said. "And, of course, as UNICEF, we are particularly concerned about the children having to drop out of school and, of course, being open to all type of exploitation because there is no one to take care of them."

Surveys conducted by UNICEF in the six African countries this year show alarming levels of malnutrition among children under age five. But, Mr. Vergara notes that orphans are suffering most from lack of proper nutrition.