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Another year of crisis, UN warns

Hundreds of thousands of people in Lesotho will require international assistance for a third consecutive year due to the combined impact of devastating drought and the worsening HIV/AIDS epidemic, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned on Thursday.

To underline the crisis facing the tiny mountain kingdom, a high-level UN delegation, led by James T. Morris, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, is due in the country on Friday.

He will be accompanied by the executive directors of the UN Children's Fund and UNAIDS, Carol Bellamy and Peter Piot. Food and Agriculture Organisation Director-General Dr Jacques Diouf is also expected.

"Any hopes that Lesotho's humanitarian crisis would begin to ease this year have been dashed by yet another drought, and by the increasingly devastating impact of HIV/AIDS," a joint UN agency statement quoted Morris as saying. "Hundreds of thousands of people - many of them infected or affected by HIV/AIDS - will once again need the help of the international community to survive."

The government declared a State of Emergency in February after it became clear that the country was heading for another year of acute food shortages. Early estimates indicate that Lesotho might only produce 10 percent of its cereal requirements in 2004, leaving thousands of families dependent on food assistance.

At 31 percent, Lesotho has the fourth-highest adult prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS in the world. UNAIDS estimates that 70 people are dying every day from AIDS-related causes, while 73,000 children have already been orphaned by the disease - a staggering 17 percent of all children.

"Tens of thousands of orphans in Lesotho are growing up without the care and protection they need," Bellamy said. "We must do everything we can to make sure they are in school and are getting the information, skills and support that will help protect them from HIV/AIDS, and give them a fighting chance of having a healthy and productive future."

Piot warned: "Lesotho's future depends on how successfully it tackles the epidemic, and that depends on the help of the international community. Without our support, Lesotho has no chance of combating HIV/AIDS and will slip into perpetual crisis and, eventually, catastrophe."

The crisis in Lesotho has been further exacerbated by severe poverty - around two-thirds of the population live below the poverty line. Retrenchments in the South African mining industry have also reduced household income, especially in rural areas.

In July 2002, the UN launched a Consolidated Appeal for vital food and non-food aid for Lesotho and five other southern African countries - Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. A second appeal was launched a year later in July 2003.

See also an IRIN Special Report: LESOTHO: Mountain kingdom faces humanitarian calamity

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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