UNICEF Home
unicef in actionHighlightsInformation ResourcesDonations, Greeting Cards, & GiftsFor the MediaVoices of YouthAbout UNICEF
Unicef Home      

Press Centre

Press Centre Home

Press Releases 1996-2003

UNICEF in the News

Calendar

Executive Speeches

Country Stats

For Broadcasters

Press Centre

Press Release

Amidst Iraq war, UNICEF spotlights
ongoing crisis in southern Africa

Women and children must be at the centre of response
to Southern Africa's humanitarian crisis

JOHANNESBURG, 3 April 2003 -- With global attention zeroed in on Iraq, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy traveled to Southern Africa this week to focus on a humanitarian crisis reshaping the lives of millions of children and women far beyond the lenses of most cameras.

Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, six predominantly agricultural societies, are battling a lethal mix of drought-induced food shortages, and massive AIDS epidemics. About 1 in 4 adults in the six countries now live with HIV or AIDS; increasing deaths and sickness have ground social safety nets way below the reach of poor households. The outlook for children is particularly bleak: the six countries are home to 2.35 million children who have lost one or both parents to AIDS, and 600,000 children under 15 who are HIV positive themselves.

Links

Read more on UNICEF's relief efforts in Southern Africa

Emergency appeal

"This deadly combination of food shortages and HIV is having particularly devastating consequences for women and girls", UNICEF chief Carol Bellamy said. "Women are the lifeline of these southern African communities. They put the food on the table, and they're the ones that keep families going during such crises. They've been hit hardest by HIV and they're overwhelmingly taking on the burden of caring for the young, the old, the sick and the dying."

"If we reach women, we reach their children, the whole family, and the wider Community. To quote the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan: to save Africa, we must save her women."

To do so, Bellamy said, an urgent response is required to address not only the immediate needs of women, but also long-term underlying structural barriers and inequities, pervasive sexual violence and abuse, limited access to productive assets, and destructive social norms that are fuelling the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

UNICEF today also released the findings of its first comprehensive review of nutritional surveys, which showed that a further deterioration in nutritional status of young children throughout Southern Africa had been averted.

But the review, which took an in-depth look at over 60 nutritional surveys and studies in the six crisis-affected countries, showed that certain age groups of children, specifically those under age three, were far more vulnerable to the lethal impact of drought and HIV infection that has swept the southern African region.

"This major status report on children gives us the first indications that humanitarian assistance - specifically the combination of emergency food, safe and clean water, vitamin A supplementation and childhood immunization - has stemmed any dramatic decline in child malnutrition throughout southern Africa," said Urban Jonsson, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa.

The findings also indicate that decline in nutritional status is more pronounced among children in urban and peri-urban areas, where HIV/AIDS prevalence happens to be higher. The review also indicates that orphans are the most vulnerable: orphans were twice as likely to be malnourished, compared with those children with either one or both parents alive, the nutritional analysis showed.

"The HIV/AIDS pandemic in southern Africa has eroded the gains of the mid-80's and early 90's and made societies highly vulnerable to shocks and crisis such as drought and crop failures. Fighting HIV/AIDS is central to restoring the social fabric and sustaining the results of developmental efforts undertaken in this region," Jonsson said.

The review of nutritional surveys was undertaken by UNICEF in collaboration with Tulane University and the Community Systems Foundation.

Country

HIV % in
Adults 15-49

% Young people
living with HIV/AIDS

HIV positive children under 15 yr

No. of underweight Children

 
 

Female 15-24

Male 15-24

Lesotho

31.0

51.4

23.5

27,000

46,000

 

Malawi

15.0

17.9
7.6

65,000

532,000

Mozambique

13.0

18.8
7.8

80,000

702,000

Swaziland

33.4

47.4
18.3

14,000

14,000

Zambia

21.5

25.2
9.7

150,000

541,000

Zimbabwe

33.7

39.6
14.9

240,000

496,000

 

* * *

For further information, please contact:

Madeline Eisner, UNICEF Media, Nairobi (2542) 622-214