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Press release

Donors can help save 6 million children in Southern Africa crisis

NEW YORK, 18 July 2002 - The United Nations Children's Fund today urged the world community to help save the lives of more than 6 million children who are at immediate risk of death in southern Africa due to a crippling combination of natural and man-made crises.

Speaking in support of an emergency UN appeal for $611 million, announced in New York today, UNICEF said that an urgent response is crucial to saving lives and averting a "massive human disaster." The appeal covers the needs of five countries - Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe - and includes Mozambique as part of a regional strategy for responding.

"We cannot overstate what's at stake here," said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF. "Of the 12.8 million people at risk of death, more than half are children. Without major and immediate funding from around the world, we just won't get the job done. These children need our help, and they need it now."

Bellamy pointed out that about 2.4 million of the children affected are under the age of five, meaning they are especially vulnerable to malnutrition and disease. She also made a point of connecting the impact of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa and the impact of the drought crisis.

"This is much larger than just a food crisis," Bellamy said. "It's also a water crisis, a health crisis, an education crisis. All of this is taking place in an environment ravaged by AIDS, and the various crises are feeding each other." Bellamy added that half of all new cases of AIDS occur in young people, and noted that HIV infection rates across the six countries average 25 per cent of the total population - staggering figures.

"While the primary focus is the need for food, we must also address the need for medicine, water, and better sanitation. And we must respond in a way that accounts for the huge impact HIV/AIDS is having on these communities," Bellamy said.

UNICEF said its portion of the UN appeal was $27 million, mostly targeted at fighting disease outbreaks, supporting basic health systems, providing therapeutic feeding for severely malnourished children, keeping children in school, and mitigating the role of HIV/AIDS in the crisis.

UNICEF's Response

  • Bellamy said UNICEF's response was already in full swing thanks to early funding received from Sweden, Canada, Italy and the Netherlands. UNICEF's first response has included:
  • Establishing and supporting therapeutic feeding centers for severely malnourished children in all six countries;
  • Launching measles immunization and vitamin A campaigns to protect children's health;

And digging new wells and providing water purification equipment in the most drought-affected areas.

But Bellamy pointed out that far more support is needed to expand relief and reach all vulnerable children with the help they need. If the UN appeal is fully funded, she said UNICEF would be able to expand current efforts and also work to:

  • Ensure that families directly affected by HIV/AIDS - including child-headed households and those caring for AIDS orphans - are identified and provided with the necessary support;
  • Keep children in school by expanding school-lunch programs in conjunction with WFP;
  • And protect children from harsh labour or sexual exploitation by supporting community coping mechanisms, thus minimizing the pressure on families to put children to work.
  • "Six weeks from now, world leaders and thousands of experts and activists will be meeting in South Africa to talk about sustainable development and our natural environment," Bellamy said. "Meanwhile, in six neighbouring countries people are dying. This is a test for us. The world cannot turn its back now."

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For further information, please contact:

Alfred Ironside, UNICEF Media, New York (212) 326-7261
Lynn Geldof, UNICEF Media, Geneva (4122) 909-5531
Madeline Eisner, UNICEF Media, Nairobi (2542) 622-214




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