- The European Commission has approved euro 2 million for humanitarian aid for victims of drought in Lesotho and Swaziland. Although authorities in the two Southern African countries are optimistic regarding the 2005 harvest, this is not enough to stop the humanitarian crisis following three years of drought, combined with the world's highest HIV infection rates.
The European Union (EU) yesterday announced that its development and humanitarian fund - ECHO - was to release an extra grant to meet the crisis in the two small kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland.
- These two countries continue to suffer the consequences of a drought that has stricken the Southern Africa region over the last few years, an EU statement said. "The major humanitarian impact of this drought is wide-spread food insecurity," the statement added.
Rising unemployment rates in the two countries further meant that more and more people were becoming dependent on subsistence farming for all their food needs. "This precarious situation is compounded by the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic," the EU development agency emphasised.
Swaziland and Lesotho are among the countries with the highest infection rates in the world, with nearly 40 percent of their populations affected, according to official UN statistics. Life expectancy at birth is now estimated at 44 years for Swaziland and 43 years for Lesotho in 2002, down from about 65 years in 1990.
- ECHO funds will be used to provide supplementary feeding and related basic support for nearly 100,000 targeted vulnerable people to help them meet their basic needs, the EU statement said.
Also the UN is strongly concerned about the humanitarian situation in Lesotho and Swaziland. The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) according to its latest update weekly distributes about 860 tons of food to over 49,505 beneficiaries in Lesotho, while distributing 285 tons of food to about 17,810 beneficiaries in Swaziland.
In both countries, this season's poor harvests are now being marketed, WFP reported on 11 June. Commercial and subsistence farmers in Swaziland are now selling part of their 2003/04 harvests, but 50 kg of maize is pegged at E91.00 (euro 12), "putting it beyond the reach of vulnerable and food insecure population groups," WFP says.
In Lesotho, authorities are hoping for a bumper harvest in 2005, but WFP is warning that not even one year of excellent harvest would be enough to counter the three-year crisis experienced by now. Techester Zergaber, WFP's head in Lesotho, told Reuters news agency today that about a fifth of the population an - estimated 600 000 people - are expected to need food assistance until 2005.
- We are really looking at a precarious situation up to June/July 2005. It's very depressing," Mr Zergaber said. Both WFP and the governments of Lesotho and Swaziland now totally relied on donors to avoid hunger-related deaths in the two countries.
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