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Southern Africa in Death Spiral from AIDS Impact, UN Says - 2004-06-22

The United Nations says Southern Africa is in a death spiral because of the impact of AIDS on food shortages.

The director of the U.N. World Food Program says that HIV/AIDS is greatly exacerbating the effects of food shortages in southern Africa. James Morris says over and above natural disasters, such as drought, AIDS is killing those who would normally produce the region's food.

In addition, he says, the number of health and social workers dying from the disease is straining health and social services in the region.

Mr. Morris, who is also U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's special representative for humanitarian needs for southern Africa, was speaking in Johannesburg at the end of a tour to Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Zambia.

He said this region is the worst hit by the AIDS pandemic and that it has resulted in the world's greatest humanitarian crises. "You have more than five million people living with the infection. You have a prevalence rate of 24 percent on the average."

Mr. Morris said as many as 600 people die of AIDS each day in South Africa.

He said the delegation did not visit Zimbabwe after it was told the government in Harare was too busy to receive the U.N. envoys. Zimbabwe recently declared it will produce a bumper harvest this year after several years of severe food shortages caused by the government's chaotic land resettlement program and a severe drought.

Mr. Morris said the United Nations will do its best to be prepared in the event the Zimbabwe government's expectations of a bumper harvest this year fail to materialize. But he said, Zimbabwe's ability to produce sufficient food will be hampered because of the prevalence of AIDS.

"Zimbabwe is a country that has a very high H.I.V. prevalence rate, probably something in the neighborhood of 34 percent, one of the five highest in the world. It is a country with at least 800,000 orphans because of H.I.V., it is a country that has its life expectancy rate nearly cut in half," he said.

Mr. Morris said he hopes to be able to visit Zimbabwe because he believes as many a five million Zimbabweans remain vulnerable to food shortages.