Global Policy Forum

AIDS Complicating Battle against Hunger

World Food Programme
May 11, 2004

James Morris, the Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), today testified before Congress on the growing hunger problem around the world and how it is exacerbated by the AIDS crisis.

More than 40 million people are infected with HIV and some two-thirds of them live in conditions of severe poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. Morris highlighted to Congress the critical role that food aid plays in helping people living with HIV/AIDS fight the disease.

"Ending AIDS is not a battle we will win with medicine alone – we need proper nutrition, education, and clean water," Morris told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "The AIDS coverage in the media focuses heavily on the demand for anti-retroviral drugs, but if you were to go out and talk to families in southern Africa, the hardest hit region, you would get a very different picture. These people talk about food."

People need good nutrition to fight off infection, regain strength and live productively. Malnutrition breaks down people's immune systems, and makes them more prone to disease, including AIDS.

Morris also appealed to Congress to put a greater priority on funds for people suffering from chronic hunger, rather than just on the victims of high-profile disasters and emergencies.

"During the course of this hearing several hundred people will die from hunger," Morris told Congress. "Most of the victims will be malnourished young children too weak to fight off the disease. Their deaths will occur quietly in dusty villages in Malawi, the slums of Mumbai, the highlands of Peru. These deaths will not make the news."

Every five seconds, a child dies from hunger-related diseases, and malnutrition is still the number one public health threat around the world. More people die from hunger-related causes than from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

The US government has been the top donor to WFP since its inception in 1963 and continues to be the agency's most generous contributor. Last year, the US government donated nearly US$1.5 billion for feeding programs in countries ranging from Afghanistan to Iraq to Zambia.

Currently, more than 800 million people are chronically hungry, a figure which increased by 18 million in the second half of the 1990s. One in four of the world's children under five years old is underweight – 168 million all told. At the same time, WFP is facing a shortfall in 2004 of 1.8 million metric tons of food or US$1 billion for critical operations in 2004.

Morris also recommended that Congress provide more food assistance to AIDS orphans – expected to rise to 20 million children by 2010 – and increase school feeding programs. WFP provides nutritious school meals to children in 69 countries to attract them to school, increase retention rates and improve learning ability.

"Helping children attend school longer – especially girls – has a proven record for interrupting the spread of HIV," said Morris. "The longer a girl attends school, the more knowledgeable she becomes. This translates into positive and healthy behaviors that last a lifetime."

In his testimony, Morris noted his concerns about the growing humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of western Sudan, which has led to more than one million people being displaced from their homes and more than 100,000 refugees fleeing to Chad. Morris led a high-level UN inter-agency assessment mission to Darfur and Chad at the end of April.

"What we witnessed throughout Darfur and in neighboring Chad is a dramatic humanitarian crisis, no doubt one of the worst in the world today. It is a crisis of massive displacement, critical humanitarian needs and extreme levels of violence and fear," said Morris.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign - For just US$19 cents a day, you can help WFP give children in poor countries a healthy meal at school - a gift of hope for a brighter future.

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