Aid agencies have appealed for US $530 million to provide life-saving assistance to 6.5 million people in Southern Africa who have been "severely weakened by consecutive failed harvests, extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS".
The UN launched the 2003 Regional Consolidated Appeal (CAP) simultaneously in Johannesburg and Geneva on Tuesday.
The UN system - including the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), World Food Programme (WFP), UNAIDS, the UN Children's Fund, the UN Population Fund, and the World Health Organisation - in collaboration with NGOs and the Southern African Development Community, has appealed for $320 million for food aid and $210 million for non-food aid.
"Because of the quick response from the international community, the UN and its NGO partners saved millions of lives threatened by starvation in Southern Africa over the past year. But the crisis is not over and I urge donors to remember [the] hundreds of thousands of families - many of them in Zimbabwe - who are still in grave danger," James Morris, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, said in a statement.
In addition to food aid, the 12-month appeal also seeks to fund water and sanitation, agriculture, education and health projects in six affected countries - Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
These recovery-oriented projects were a critical part of the response to the current crisis, OCHA acting officer-in-charge in South Africa, Jean-Luc Tonglet, told IRIN.
He added that the non-food portion of the CAP had increased substantially compared with the 2002/03 CAP.
The 2002/03 CAP for Southern Africa received 73 percent of the $656 million requested by the UN agencies and NGOs. However, the majority of the donations were for food aid, while non-food aid remained seriously underfunded.
"The proportion of non-food has increased in this appeal, due to a series of factors. Firstly, there's the fact that UN agencies have improved assessment methodologies and targeting [of vulnerable groups], which has improved [assistance] programming. This time, more NGOs participated in the CAP with non-food projects... [Also,] the recognition that HIV/AIDS is at the centre of the crisis has prompted a more multi-sectoral approach," Tonglet said.
In addition to food aid, projects have been designed to strengthen longer-term development at the household level, as well as strengthen vital social services. Addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic - particularly in relation to its impact on women - is central to these activities, a UN statement said.
"As long as HIV/AIDS continues to be the single biggest destroyer of lives and livelihoods in this region, Southern Africa will remain on the precipice of an unparalleled humanitarian tragedy," Morris was quoted as saying. "We absolutely cannot return to a 'business as usual' approach in Southern Africa. It is simply not an option."
WFP emergency coordinator in Southern Africa, Deborah Saidy, told IRIN the agency was "certainly moving towards a more targeted approach [in food aid distributions]".
"We recognise that there's a sector of the population [in Southern Africa] that is not able to bounce back, as compared to other populations in other situations. And that is certainly due to the HIV/AIDS factor," she said.
FAO meanwhile said it had designed emergency projects that aim to increase agricultural production, skills and capacity; promote diversification of production activities, crop variety and labour-saving practices; replenish small livestock assets, and improve nutrition and drought resilience.
"Through this comprehensive package of relief and rehabilitation efforts, FAO will support countries to increase the self-reliance of food-insecure and labour-constrained agricultural farming communities, and reduce their vulnerability and dependence on food aid."
The projects proposed by FAO would respond to the complex and urgent needs of over one million households in Southern Africa, focusing primarily on the most vulnerable: female-, orphan- and/or child-headed households, and HIV/AIDS affected families.
"It is important to note that these interventions must be implemented according to the agricultural calendar, which necessitates a quick response from donors," FAO added.
FAO has appealed for $43 million within the CAP, representing an increase of $24 million over the amount requested in the mid-term review of the 2002/03 CAP.
"These rising costs reflect the growing awareness within the international community that investment in people and their livelihoods requires more commitment than merely funding direct food interventions to save lives. Investing in people and their livelihoods represents a commitment to root out, and overcome, the deepening crisis in Southern Africa," the agency noted.
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