How AIDS brings famine nearer
This is not the same old story of drought equals famine in Africa. This time, there is hunger in the huts for reasons that have little to do with the weather.Skip to next paragraph
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Christian Science Monitor correspondent Danna Harman and staff photographer Andy Nelson spent three weeks traveling in Southern Africa, delving into the causes of the growing food crisis. Amid the desperation, they found a determination to address the primarily manmade problems. This is the last in a four-part series.
Capt. John Codispoti's wife is expecting him back in New Hampshire by Thanksgiving. They last saw each other in August before he set sail on the Liberty Grace with a hold full of US corn to help Southern Africa's massive food crisis.
"Sometimes, this seems like rather a never-ending journey," sighs Mr. Codispoti, as he looks down at the corn being offloaded into giant silos in Maputo, Mozambique.
As the Liberty Grace makes its way home - after stops in Durban, South Africa; Maputo; and Dar as Salaam, Tanzania - the Liberty Sun, another ship filled with precious cargo, reached the eastern coast of Africa on Wednesday. In the months to come, aid organizations will work overtime to help keep the food flowing.
But sadly, much of it will come too late. AIDS has ravaged families all over Southern Africa, and many of the young men who would work the fields have died or are to weak too sow and reap. Either the AIDS pandemic or the food crisis alone would put tremendous pressure on a population struggling to subsist. Together, they are almost too much to bear.
He likes puzzles, his father says. And so he does.
Nine years old and thin as a rail, Ambosio Phiri spends his days putting together a 22-piece puzzle of a little girl and a bunny. He sits cross-legged on the rickety hospital bed in Malawi's capital, Lilongwe, his extra-small T-shirt too big for him, his spindly arms moving slowly, by rote, as he picks up and fits in one piece after another.
Across the border and hundreds of miles away, in the sleepy Zambian town of Mongu, Mwambwa Mwambwa passes his days in a little shack, reading passages from a worn Bible, or writing letters to his sons. A dirty soda bottle, transformed into a vase holding one fake yellow flower, is all that adorns this home.
The boy and the man do not know each other, but they have much in common. Both are living in countries facing famine, both are suffering from malnutrition and receiving food aid, and both have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
"I miss my cousins," says Ambosio in a tiny voice as he takes a sip of porridge. "I would like to go home with my dad."
In Malawi, an estimated 19 percent of the population is HIV-positive. In Zambia, the figure is 22 percent. Life expectancy has slid to 39 years. In both countries, each with populations of 11 million to 12 million, there are as many as 2 million AIDS orphans.
Thousands of teachers and doctors die each year of AIDS, hurting the education and health prospects of these and other children. The statistics are similar all over Southern Africa.
In choosing who will receive the food aid pouring into Southern Africa, the UN World Food Program (WFP) and its implementing partners carry out assessments in various regions, examining the overall needs. Local communities set up committees to identify the most vulnerable, and who given ID cards and told to pick up food, once a month, at a distribution center. In some cases, food will be brought to the frail.
For example, the WFP provides food to the ward where Ambosio is hospitalized, and works with a group of nuns who come to visit Mr. Mwambwa in his shack on a regular basis, bringing with them small packs of sugar and little cups of corn.
But weakened by the disease, millions of men, women, and children here are finding they're too fragile to cope with the current food shortages.
"AIDS patients, along with other sick people, need a different kind of nutrition to cope with their illnesses," says Caroline McAskie, deputy emergency relief coordinator for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. "Even with food, the situation is difficult."