Darfur is headline news – but actually, the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today is in southern Africa. I mean it. While the devastating effects of the three-year drought now appear to be receding, southern Africa is still crippled by a blight of cataclysmic proportions – the HIV/AIDS pandemic.So far, around a million people have died. This is the tip of the iceberg: with as many as one in three adults in some countries infected with the HIV virus, the deaths can only increase. There are already 11 million AIDS orphans in southern Africa; by 2010, this number is expected to swell to 20m. Imagine every child under five in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom losing their parents and you begin to get the picture.One of the worst aspects of HIV/AIDS is that it hits people at the most productive stage of their lives. Southern Africa is now losing teachers, doctors and civil servants at a faster rate than it can train them. The effect this has on social services is obviously devastating. In Africa as a whole, seven million farmers have so far died of AIDS – a much more lethal blow to agricultural production than any drought.Horrific as these statistics are, they do not seem to impress donors as much as the short-term, high-profile crises caused by conflict or natural disasters. There is, for understandable reasons, something of a fire-brigade mentality among donors. A big conflagration – such as Darfur – attracts generous donations. But getting funds for a long, smouldering, but far more destructive fire is a considerably more challenging task.So why is this so important for WFP? Because food aid can make a huge difference. For most people living with HIV/AIDS, drugs are still not available or affordable. But in the battle against HIV/AIDS, good nutrition can prolong their lives and keep them active and producing. And even for those fortunate enough to have access to anti-retroviral drugs, the medicine works better for the well nourished.There is also the fact that even in areas with the highest HIV prevalence, the vast majority of children between the ages of five and 15 are free of the virus. We need to do everything in our power to keep them that way. And while scientists continue to search for a vaccine and a cure for AIDS, the best hope we currently have is to keep children in school as long as possible. A recent World Bank study showed that young people with little or no education were twice as likely to contract HIV as those with a primary school education. The study also found that in comparison to children who do not go to school, those with an education were more likely to respond to HIV prevention campaigns and thus more likely to change behaviour that puts them at risk of contracting HIV. This is not to say that it is not serious – I saw for myself the horrendous plight of some two million people forced out of their homes, their livelihoods destroyed, women raped and whole families butchered. This dreadful injustice has rightly attracted the attention of the international press and world leaders.And WFP is there. So far, we are trucking and airlifting food aid to some 300,000 internally displaced people in the Darfur region and more than 100,000 refugees across the border in Chad. There is, unfortunately, a tendency in some quarters to see Africa’s struggle with HIV/AIDS as “not our problem”. But we may soon encounter what amounts to societal meltdown. You can already see it in rural areas whose small communities are being abandoned and fields lie fallow. Children are raising other children and they are all lost and hungry.I therefore have one crucial message to our already generous donors and in particular to the newly expanded and booming European Union: thank you for the big donations for the emergencies that we all see on the evening news. But it is even more important to invest now in warding off this millennium’s most deadly scourge, before it is too late.James Morris is the executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme and the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for southern Africa.
In contrast, the ministers agreed that it was too soon for the EU to say how much money it will give to developing countries to help them adapt to unavoidable climate change. Their conclusions state that global spending will need to increase to €175 billion a year by 2020 if the EU is to meet its objective of restricting global warming to 2°C. They also take note of United Nations estimates that developing countries will need €23bn-€54bn per year by 2030 to adapt to climate change. Italy and France had argued that these figures should be deleted, because they could be seen as a tacit spending commitment, but in the end the figures stayed. The ministers agreed that any agreement at the UN’s climate change summit in Copenhagen later this year must be based on the most recent scientific evidence, which shows that climate change is happening faster than scientists had previously thought. The UN negotiations are based on the IPCC’s scientific reports, which are drawn up by thousands of scientists, but their latest report from 2007 has been overtaken by new data showing that the Arctic is melting and seas are rising faster than predicted. The European Union will call on other developed countries to set greenhouse-gas targets by the middle of this year, a meeting of the bloc’s environment ministers decided yesterday (2 March). The declaration is an attempt to step up pressure on other wealthy nations, as the world prepares to negotiate a global deal on climate change at the end of the year.The EU has pledged to cut its emissions by 20% by 2020 and promised to increase this target to 30% if other countries join in. At yesterday’s meeting in Brussels, the environment ministers of the 27 EU states re-confirmed their 30% target and called on other developed countries to come up with plans for emission limitations or reductions as soon as possible and no later than the middle of the year. According to evidence from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was cited by the ministers, developed countries must reduce their emissions by 25-40% by 2020 and by 80-95% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. The EU is anxious to ensure that other rich countries take on similar commitments for 2020 and beyond. The ministers also stated that they want other rich countries to pass measures that are similar to the EU’s climate and energy package that was agreed last year.But ministers were divided over how to calculate what a “similar” commitment would be. In the end they agreed that targets should be based on a country’s ability to pay, potential to make greenhouse-gas reductions, efforts made since 1990 and population trends. Some countries, notably France, Hungary, Italy, Portugal and Spain, had pressed to include emissions per person, but other countries thought this would cause problems at the UN negotiating table. The ministers compromised, by agreeing that all countries should work to limit their emissions to two tonnes per person by 2050.