UN's Envoy to Convey Enormity of
Times (Dar es Salaam)
March 17, 2003
Posted to the web March 21, 2003
At the end of January, the UN Secretary
General's special envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern
Africa, James Morris, completed a tour of four countries in
the region and said the HIV/Aids pandemic was threatening the
very future of nations. One president told him: "My
country is on the verge of extinction."
There are 11 million orphans in Southern
Africa, 780,000 of them in Zimbabwe. In Malawi, ten per cent
of families are headed by a child.
Zambia lost 2,000 teachers last year to
Aids and half the country's students have dropped out of
Seven million agricultural workers have
been lost in southern Africa since 1985; another 16m will be
lost by 2020.
Some 70-80 per cent of hospital
admissions are people with HIV/Aids; 8,000 people die every 24
Morris, who is also executive director
of the World Food Programme (WFP), had travelled through
Zambia, Lesotho, Malawi and Zimbabwe with Kofi Annan's envoy
for HIV/Aids in Africa, Stephen Lewis. The two men returned
warning that an entirely new and bold approach was needed to
address the intertwined crises of devastating illness and
Earlier, Morris had warned the Security
Council that "the magnitude of the disaster unfolding in
Africa has not been fully grasped by the international
community... An exceptional effort is urgently needed if a
major catastrophe is to be averted. Business as usual will not
Ten years ago, Morris says, 80 per cent
of the work done by WFP was in development and only 20 per
cent was in response to food emergencies.
Now, however, those numbers are
The world has a responsibility to feed
the children who have lost their parents, he says, to get them
to school and teach them about agriculture. Mechanisation of
agriculture has to be on the agenda, lightweight tools are
needed, the burden on women needs to be eased.
James Morris is clearly a determined man
but the enormity of the task ahead appears overwhelming:
"I'm a positive person but I must tell you, every time I
go through this recitation, I do become a bit
bewildered," he told a conference on HIV/Aids in Africa
hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies,
And there is an edge of anger to his
voice when he talks specifically of the policies of the
Zimbabwe government. "There is 34% prevalence there. The
government has no foreign exchange to buy food; it is refusing
to allow the market to work to deliver food. WFP will provide
a quarter of what they need; I have no idea where the rest of
it is going to come from."
Morris this week briefed Senators and
members of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC and
met with President Bush. He gave an interview to Jerry
Hagstrom, National Journal's Congress Daily and Akwe Amosu of
What's your overall message to officials
here in Washington?
The overall message is that the number
of people at risk around the world because of emergencies is
huge, as large as we've ever known it, and our needs to do our
job - provide food especially for the hungriest and poorest
people, more often than not targeting women and children - is
Given the issues in Africa, our food
requirements will be larger this year than ever in history;
and you look at southern Africa, now complicated by the horn
of Africa, now complicated by the west of Africa, the Sahel,
and other issues - together with ongoing needs in North Korea,
Palestine - to do our work we're going to we need more help
than we've ever had before.
Is the Bush administration's current
budget for food aid too low?
I'm encouraged - the supplemental
appropriation, the president's commitment to the famine fund
and the emergency fund - I'm very grateful for what the United
States is able to do for us; the issue is that we simply have
more challenges than normal.
We've suddenly seen the issues in Africa
grow substantially and this ongoing problem of HIV/Aids and
the impact it's had on the agricultural economy and its impact
on children, and the way it's produced all of these orphans,
the impact it's had on the women and the impact on the elderly
- there are so many people in involved, and the magnitude of
the numbers of people who are infected - this is a story that
the world absolutely has to understand.
So what's your strategy for getting the
money you need? Obviously it's good if the US or any other
government puts some money forward but you're talking in terms
that suggest you're going to need an extraordinary effort.
My strategy is to hope that our most
important current donors will find ways to help us in larger
numbers; there are twenty countries in the world that haven't
been substantial supporters of ours in the past who are
beginning to have the ability to be so; and then we're going
to reach out to the worldwide private sector and ask it to
Is that something that's happened
before, that you've had private sector donations?
No, this is new for us. There are other
UN agencies that have had private sector support and have used
it very wisely and productively; over the next five years
we're hoping that we'll have such support.
We've put in place our first partnership
with a very important Dutch company, TPG, which has 150,000
employees. And their commitment to school-feeding, to get
their employees involved is extraordinary. My hope is that
we'd have ten partners like that over the next five years.
How will that work? Will the individual
employees be making donations to a fund?
Yes, my sense is that individual
employees will make contributions, the company will make
contributions, the company will match employee contributions.
TPG is a company in the logistics business, they understand
delivery and storage, and transportation - the things we do -
and they'll help us get better at what we do.
Do you believe your message that a
really extraordinary effort is now required is getting across
in the rich world?
I think the world in general doesn't
want women and children to be at risk, doesn't want people to
be hungry. The world knows we have the ability to produce
enough food. The issues of logistics and local production need
to be addressed, and the world is generous.
But I'm saying these are extraordinary
times and we're going to have to be a little more generous to
have the resources to deal with this unusual convergence of
problems. The HIV/Aids issue - we have not had a health
predicament like this certainly in my life time and I don't
know if we've ever had it in the world.
The economic impact of it, the cultural
impact, the family impact, the impact on children, on all the
coping mechanisms of a family or a country, on the bureaucracy
with its loss or depletion of human resources, is enormous.
There are leadership issues, there are resources issues.
I don't have the answers and the world
needs to be as thoughtful about this set of issues as about
anything on the agenda today.
But nonetheless you came back from your
recent visit to southern Africa with a list of things that
might help - like lightweight tools for farmers and other
I think, number one, we do have to
provide enough food for people to get through this. For people
who are HIV-infected, or vulnerable to HIV, we need to make a
change in the food basket we provide for them.