Prepare for the worst
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CTA. 2003. Prepare for the worst. Spore 106. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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The HIV/AIDS tragedy has another name: The Pandemic
'Up to one hundred million people in sub-Saharan Africa will have died before The Pandemic is over' is how Stephen Lewis, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for HIV/AIDS in Africa, put it at a special meeting on Diseases without Borders , during the annual Conference of Montreal (Canada) early in May 2003. Talking to Spore before his speech, rehearsing awhile, he promised to pay at least "a nod to agriculture". It was to be more of a knock than a nod: he put agriculture at the top of the list of sectors most affected by HIV/AIDS ? above education, above health. An epidemic has become 'The Pandemic' meaning a disease affecting all (Greek: pan) people (demos) in large region(s). In 2 short years, the language of those who normally err on the side of caution - diplomats and doctors - has become dramatic, almost desperate. Life ends at 40, again In just a dozen years, the time it takes for a fortunate child to complete school, from 1998 to 2010, the average life expectancy of a person in Botswana will have fallen from the once-predicted 66 years to 35 years, according to UNAIDS, the UN's joint agency programme. In Haiti, by 2005 it will have fallen by 6 years; in Burkina Faso by 8, Mozambique 11. Between 1985 and 2001, FAO estimates that in the 27 most affected African countries, 7 million agricultural workers died from AIDS. The impact is well known and already scary enough: remote fields abandoned, nearby fields over-used and under-maintained; switches to crops requiring less labour, with the loss of variety in diets and of income; neglect, or selling off, of livestock; breakdown of extension and support services; diversion of scarce funds and credit to medical care, funerals and food, with subsequent defaults on loans and sales of assets - though rarely sales of land. Impact assessed: hurt In a detailed study by FAO of the Bondo and Busia districts of Kenya, the number of married households fell from the already AIDS-scarred level of 80% of all households in 1992 to 60% in 2002. Female-headed households (FHHs) rose from 17% to 30%, and orphan-headed households (OHHs), learning parenting with no parents, from 3% to 10%. Most FHHs had access, through hire and loans, to draught animals; while 90% of grandparent- headed and 100% of OHHs had only hand-power. Half of them had a hoe, but did any have a future? That was yesterday, and yesterday has gone. Today is tougher. Take this report, mid-May 2003, from the Southern African Development Community: "Even where the maize harvest is quite good, the fact that we have such high HIV infection rates requires more livelihood support interventions. Good cereal production may not be enough to sustain people as it would 10 years ago." Tomorrow will be different. The FAO predicts 16 million more deaths of agricultural workers by 2020. One in 4 workers in Namibia; 1 in 5 in South Africa; 1 in 6 in Kenya; 1 in 7 in Malawi; 1 in 8 in the Central African Republic. A different tomorrow indeed. Mitigate we must The response of families, villages and regional structures is, and shall no doubt remain, massive, with millions of cases of solidarity and coping. The single example of the Livingstone Widows Association in Zambia is moving enough, where a group of widows set up a micro-savings and credit scheme to help their home gardens flourish and to generate more income. Such innovative spirit, and changes to the rules, are sorely needed in institutional approaches, as in the case of CARE-Zambia which, itself affected by personnel losses, has restructured its medical and agricultural extension work, in effect providing an AIDS response to its farming operations. Elsewhere, typical of the openness now present in donor bodies, Germany's technical cooperation agency GTZ encourages all projects to build AIDS-response components into their budgets. The key areas for attention are: to reorganise extension and credit; to re-design agricultural equipment; to empower affected communities to diversify production; and to ensure that local knowledge is recorded and passed from generation to fast-changing generation. All with more focus on women, youth and the elderly. It requires inspiration - perhaps more than can come from simply facing adversity - and resources. Much of both is coming, from the 'impact mitigation' to which the Member States at a special session of the UN General Assembly committed themselves in 2001 alongside prevention, care and treatment. The resources are on their way, enhanced by the decisions in May and early June 2003 of the United States and the European Union to drastically increase the funds ? and medicines ? available for developing countries. Adjustment to The Pandemic While it is on the farm that much direct impact is being felt, and while it is the poor who are most vulnerable to infection and lack of care, and while it is their coping strategies that have to be replicated, we are all directly affected - we all have a new task. We have to learn to manage our societies where, in the course of three decades, we shall have lost, day by tragic day, up to one in five of our farmers, millers, marketers, teachers, scholars, doctors, planners, ministers, editors, bankers, poets, friends and neighbours. Interdependency has never been more visible. It took a while, in the 1990s, for governments to realise the complexity of the issue, but they did so. Anna Abdallah, Minister for Health of Tanzania, told Spore. "It's not just an issue for Health - every Ministry has to be involved and have its approach." And now, already badly bruised, and much further along this hurting road, we must create a new form of structural adjustment, adjustment to The Pandemic.
- CTA Spore (English)