17 February 2003, Rome -- An appeal for $15 million to help more than half a million vulnerable households in southern Africa was announced today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The region has been struggling with a severe food and health crisis that continues to threaten as many as 15 million people.

The FAO appeal follows assessment missions to southern Africa in December and January. The missions evaluated the progress of humanitarian assistance in the region.

They reported that the region's severe humanitarian crisis can be expected to worsen in the coming months because of poor weather and the increasingly destructive impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic on agricultural productivity.

FAO made the appeal to prevent further loss of life and to support existing efforts that address the underlying causes of deepening poverty.

In July 2002, FAO appealed for $25 million to respond to the southern African crisis. More than $10 million in contributions was received, coming from the European Union, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

FAO used the contributions to fund what it describes as "successful small-scale interventions" that prove southern Africans have the ability to cope with and conquer the humanitarian crisis that faces them when assistance is provided.

However, says Anne M. Bauer, Director for FAO's Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation, "This emergency is unlike any other humanitarian crisis. The causes are complex and merit a sustained and comprehensive package of relief and recovery efforts that focus on the most vulnerable groups."

According to FAO, the southern Africa food crisis is the result of drought, chronic poverty, land degradation and HIV/AIDS. It is the prevalence of HIV/AIDS that is proving to be the most challenging cause of the crisis in southern Africa today, according to FAO.

"HIV/AIDS causes and exacerbates food insecurity in a number of ways. Illness and death of productive household members leave families unable to farm, indebted with high medical and funeral costs, and little means to earn extra cash to buy food and pay school fees," says a UN report released Friday.

"It places families in situations of extreme vulnerability, which forces people, particularly women, to adopt risky behaviour just to put enough food on the table - further fuelling the spread of the disease."

The up-dated appeal will raise funds for projects that focus assistance on female-headed households and HIV/AIDS affected families.

The projects, in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, aim to improve skills and increase the supply of agricultural inputs, such as seeds, hand-tools and fertilizer, while promoting crop diversity, labour saving technologies and resistance to drought.

The projects will also replenish small livestock and improve nutrition. According to Bauer, "This comprehensive package of relief and recovery efforts will improve the self-reliance of agricultural families and reduce their vulnerability and dependence on food aid."



Contact:
John Riddle
Information Officer, FAO
john.riddle@fao.org
+(39) 06 570 53259