DAR ES SALAAM
HIV/AIDS, trade-distorting subsidies and regional food security will feature high on the agenda of the upcoming meetings of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in the Tanzanian commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, SADC Executive Secretary Dr Prega Ramsamy said on Tuesday.
Briefing journalists on the imminent Council of Ministers meeting, and the subsequent summit from 25 to 26 August, Ramsamy said these issues had to be tackled by the region, with or without the support of the rest of the world.
When asked about Zimbabwe, Ramsamy played down suggestions that the regional body might make a statement on the country's political and economic crisis, saying the issue was being discussed by the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, but SADC's position had not changed.
"The sanctions [imposed on Zimbabwe] are not helping the country or the region as a whole," he said. "We have always asked for the sanctions to be lifted."
Following a SADC HIV/AIDS summit held in Lesotho from 2 to 4 July, where regional leaders approved a revised SADC strategic framework for tackling HIV/AIDS, Ramsamy said the pandemic had to be addressed immediately.
"Our active population is being destroyed. We won't have people to work, so we can forget about development," he warned. "It is true we need the capacity to cope with the numerous challenges, but our capacity is being decimated by HIV/AIDS, therefore it is something that we have to address."
Current SADC figures estimate that 14 million people in the region are HIV positive, representing the largest share of infections not only in Africa but also of the global total.
The strategic framework focuses on prevention, care and support to ensure sustainable human development in the SADC region. But Ramsamy said it was difficult to tackle HIV/AIDS when the costs were so high.
"We should be able to give cheap drugs," he said. "It makes no sense if [antiretroviral] drugs cost one dollar a day, when people don't have one dollar a day to give... People shouldn't make money out of the deaths of our people."
Ramsamy also stressed that in the face of growing evidence on the impact of trade-distorting subsidies, SADC countries had to consolidate their position on world trade and access to markets.
"It is critical that we, as SADC, agree on one voice and go there [to the World Trade Organisation] and say that we don't want subsidies. We have to make our voice loud and clear."
Following last year's food crisis in the region, the council would be discussing food security and measures to avoid potential crises in the future, the executive secretary said.
"It was fortunate that we sounded the alarm bells in March 2002, and we were able to get enough food assistance for the 15.2 million people affected. But these are short-term solutions - we need long term development in agriculture."
He cited the case of Tanzania, which produced a surplus last year and could donate food to the region, but due to poor rains and failed crops this year, an estimated 2 million people would need food assistance.
"We can't afford to swing between surpluses and deficits. We need to be more consistent... It is a contradiction that people in Africa live in abject poverty, when we have the resources: water, fertile land and people. Agriculture is an area where we [SADC] can make a difference," Ramsamy concluded.
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