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Emergency Preparedness Bulletin: special edition on HIV/AIDS and food security, January 2004


As Zimbabwe experiences another difficult year, with the economy declining further, an erratic start to the rainy season, and food shortages escalating in both urban and rural areas, the stories that people are telling us become ever more harrowing. A previous issue of this bulletin presented several studies conducted by a number of NGOs, indicating that poverty and the need for food were forcing young girls and boys into commercial sex. This in turn has contributed to the escalating HIV/AIDS pandemic. The current bulletin looks at some of the human stories behind these grim statistics, and looks into the link between HIV/AIDS and the worsening food security situation in the country.

Many families describe a vicious circle. Poverty, hunger and the need to sustain their families force young women into commercial sex, subject to the whims of clients who often refuse to use condoms for protection. The almost inevitable contraction of HIV/AIDS then means that a former breadwinner needs to be looked after, often by young children or older grandparents. This means less agricultural activity, less time in employment and more family resources spent on medicine and care. Children drop out of school or are forced to contribute to family survival by working long, unsocial hours that are in clear contravention of basic child protection principles. Faced with further destitution younger family members sometimes resort to the same activities that have led to the premature illness and subsequent death of their parents.

In such a context, food aid should not be seen solely as a means of preventing malnutrition, but as a resource that allows some families the freedom to be able to opt out of this vicious cycle. At a time when several million people remain excluded from food aid programmes because of a lack of funds, Save the Children (UK) would urge both the international community and the Government of Zimbabwe to keep this in mind when decisions are made about the allocation of resources. There can be no other priority more urgent in the country at present than breaking the link between poverty and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Chris McIvor
Save the Children (UK)
Programme Director, Zimbabwe

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