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Nineth Day of Christmas: Zimbabwe’s food security threatened by HIV/AIDS and ZANU PF policies
Sokwanele Reporter: 3 January 2004
The present regime’s assertion that ‘the economy is the land and the land is the economy’, with its implicit message that a policy of fast-track land redistribution will lead to increased food production for the whole country, is undermined by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS and World Health Organisation’s AIDS epidemic update for 2004. Other ZANU-PF policies including the drive to achieve a monopoly control of food supplies and limiting the activities of foreign aid organisations in a position to provide food aid where it is needed, exacerbate the risks posed by the HIV/AIDS pandemic on our country’s food security.
Life expectancy at birth in Zimbabwe is currently so low it could be described as medieval: Zimbabweans, in 2003, could expect to live, on average, to the age of 34. This is especially frightening when compared with 1990 when life expectancy was 52 years. The risk of dying from AIDS peaks, for women, between the ages of 25 and 39 years and, for men, between 30-44 years. These stark facts clearly show that the HIV/AIDS virus strikes at the most productive members of our community first. Furthermore, those in this category die at an age when, as parents, their children will usually be too young to care for themselves.
What does this have to do with food security?
Most Zimbabweans who contract the HIV virus choose to return home to the rural areas to be cared for by their families when they are too sick to continue working in the towns. This places a disproportionate burden of caring for the sick on rural households – the same households that this regime imagines will be able to produce a “bumper harvest”.
In many cases, when a sick relative returns home, the rural family also loses a source of much needed income generated by that person’s town job as well as the additional financial burden of expensive medical bills and ultimately funeral costs. Increased poverty means that families may be forced to sell off valuable assets (for rural households this will typically be livestock and farming tools) in order to meet medical expenses. The need to generate income may require other productive, younger, members of the family to migrate to the towns in the hope of earning more money for the family. This leaves behind a community that is increasingly characterised by the very young, the elderly and the sick.
Farming practices inevitably change to accommodate the mounting burdens placed on rural families who need to adjust to fewer assets, increased costs, and fewer productive members of the family. In many cases households switch to farming crops that are less labour intensive, but these crops, the FAO notes, are often also less nutritious. This fact introduces yet another element to the vicious cycle of hardship faced by rural farmers and their families.
In areas that already face food shortages (like Binga, for example), poor nutrition drastically shortens the amount of time a person can live with the virus. In fact, the FAO estimates that those who are HIV positive are only likely to survive for two years with full-blown AIDS if they have a poor diet. Even if food was plentiful, which we know it is not, increased poverty as a result of inflation and HIV/AIDS means that families are less able to buy good nutritious food. Malnutrition accelerates the progression of the disease and the most productive members of the family, often parents, die more quickly than they would if they had access to nutritious food. The pressures on remaining members of the family increase as those who are already infected with the HIV virus become too weak to work. Inevitably, agricultural productivity declines further, and hunger and malnutrition increases.
As heartless as this may sound, the age that a person dies of AIDS therefore becomes a critical factor in any discussion of food security. In a country that is largely dependent on agriculture, farming knowledge is one of our most valuable assets. The FAO points out the simple truth that a parent who dies when his child is aged fifteen has a far better chance of passing on knowledge than a parent who dies when his child is aged seven. When our farmers die at a young age -- and the UNAIDS/WHO facts clearly show that this is the case in our country -- they take with them centuries of traditional farming knowledge and experience.
The FAO predicts that, by 2020, 23% of Zimbabwe’s agricultural labour will be lost as a result of HIV/AIDS.The ZANU PF jingle “The economy is the land …” rings hollow indeed when ZANU PF policies effectively destroy the health delivery system required to sustain the lives of those who farm the lands. Furthermore, the evidence is already there that the ruling party’s desire to achieve monopoly controls over all basic food supplies is devastating the nation’s capacity to feed itself. It is critical that those who rule Zimbabwe make every effort to ensure that future knowledge is protected by taking effective measures to ensure that life expectancy is extended rather than curtailed for the sick in rural areas. Policies directed towards giving politicians a monopoly on the acquisition, storage and distribution of food must come to an end. The deliberate manipulation of food for short-term political gain must be stopped, now. And finally, every effort must be made to support those who have years of experience and knowledge in assisting the needy; namely, local and international aid organisations. Failure to make these changes as a matter of extreme urgency will only result in the most dire consequences for Zimbabwe’s food security.
Day 10: 4 January 2005
Tomorrow’s article is a repeat of a story Sokwanele ran last year in October. We posed the questions “ Where is the bumper harvest? How are the people faring, especially deep in the rural areas where it is very difficult for reporters from the independent media to penetrate?” Tomorrow’s story focuses on Binga.
Conflict in Congo
It's a sobering statistic: 1,000 people are dying each day in eastern Congo, a vast nation in the heart of Africa. And in the past six years of fighting, 3.8 million people have died, according to the International Rescue Committee.
At the outset of 2005, a breakaway military faction is fighting government forces and some 180,000 civilians have fled into the jungle, according to reports. Meanwhile, neighboring Rwanda has dispatched troops into the Central African giant, citing concerns that unfriendly forces in eastern Congo could threaten it. Rwanda is also prospecting for valuable assets like diamonds and gold. Will Congo's turmoil escalate into a broader conflict?
What to watch:
• For the past decade, international donors have poured money into Rwanda - in part because of lingering guilt over inaction during its 1994 genocide. Some say it's time to stop aid flows to Rwanda to punish it for its Congo incursions. Already, Sweden is withholding one-third of its aid.
• The UN recently added 5,900 peacekeepers to its 10,000-strong force in eastern Congo. Long accused of inaction, the UN force has grown stronger recently, engaging some of the rebel groups. Can the force stay neutral amid complicated factional fighting? And will the UN expand its mandate or increase its peacekeeping force?
• Will Congo pull off elections in June? If so, young President Joseph Kabila, who's leading a transitional government, might be able to consolidate power and establish control over the chaotic eastern region. This could enable him to rein in anti-Rwanda elements, thus decreasing tensions with Congo's neighbor.
Two chances for peace in Sudan
The new year could quickly see a major boost for peace in one of Africa's most-troubled nations.
A 20-year conflict in Sudan may finally be ending. The two sides - the northern Muslim government and southern rebels - say they'll sign a final peace deal Jan. 9. If they do, and if they carry it out, the deal could also be a template for solving Sudan's other major conflict - the one in its Darfur province, where the US says genocide has occurred.
The deal could even help end a related 18-year insurgency in neighboring Uganda.
But even with a north-south deal in hand, Darfur is a major challenge. Arab militias continue to rape and kill civilians. Some 2.3 million people are displaced - double the number six months ago. About 70,000 are dead. Aid workers and food convoys have been attacked.
Some groups, including Save the Child-ren UK, have quit the country. "Darfur is deteriorating," says International Crisis Group analyst John Prendergast.
Whether the world can reverse this trend, he and others say, depends on the UN, the US, and the African Union, which is deploying 3,300 troops there.
What to watch:
• If a north-south deal is signed, will Sudan's government be willing to strike a similar pact with Darfur rebels?
• The US has been the major diplomatic force behind the world's response to Darfur. But America's two biggest Darfur advocates - Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN Ambassador John Danforth - have resigned. Will their successors build on their commitment?
First signals will come this month during Senate confirmation hearings for Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice.
• Will a UN commission find that genocide happened in Darfur? If so, stalled discussions about further pressuring Sudan's government are likely to be revived. A report is expected this month.
Zimbabwe's power play
Zimbabwe's parliamentary elections, slated for March, will be a major test of whether the once-vibrant nation can halt its economic and political deterioration - and of the continent's commitment to African solutions for African problems.
Zimbabwe was one of the region's strongest economies through the mid-1990s - and a major food exporter. Now its official inflation rate is 150 percent, although that's down from around 900 percent earlier last year. Its increasingly dictatorial president, Robert Mugabe, has trained violent youth militias and passed laws that suppress or eliminate opposition parties, the press, and civil society.
But Mr. Mugabe has agreed to abide by election standards laid out by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a group of 14 nations that promotes good governance. SADC, as well as South Africa, and Mugabe himself, will be under pressure to ensure the norms are followed. If not, it could be an embarrassing setback for African efforts to improve the continent's international image.
One early indicator:
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change says it will decide this month whether to contest - or pull out of - the elections.
African movies coming to America
This may be the year of African movies coming to a cineplex near you. It could even be a big year for Africa at the Oscars. "Hotel Rwanda," starring Don Cheadle ("Ocean's 12"), is getting strong Oscar buzz for his role as hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, who saved hundreds of people during Rwanda's 1994 genocide.
"Red Dust" stars Hilary Swank ("Boys Don't Cry") in the fictional tale of a US lawyer tackling a murder - and the legacy of the apartheid regime - in South Africa.
"Yesterday" is South Africa's official entry in the foreign-film category at the Academy Awards. It's the story of a mother with AIDS who's trying to ensure her daughter gets a good education - even after the mother is gone. It's the first feature-length film in the South African language of Zulu - and one of the first major films from Africa to tackle the issue of AIDS.