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Southern Africa operation on target

More than a million people affected by hunger and HIV/AIDS in southern Africa will have been helped by the region's Red Cross societies when a one-year relief operation made way for longer-term action in July 2003.

By the end of April, through the International Federation's Southern Africa Food Security Operation, they had already delivered over 36,000 tonnes of food to 723,000 people in Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Some 116,000 stricken farming families had been helped with seeds, tools and fertilizers, and 122,000 people with hygienic and medical supplies. More than 75,000 people will benefit from the ongoing improvement of water sources and sanitation across the region.

The operation, which was backed by the International Federation's largest appeal since the Balkans crisis, is meeting most of its objectives. The 2002 appeal sought 89.3 million Swiss francs (US$ 61.6 million) to help 1.3 million people threatened by looming famine.

Alongside its own relief activity, the International Federation has run one of the largest Red Cross truck fleets ever assembled, to assist the World Food Programme (WFP). The Southern Africa Operation's Transport Support Package (TSP) faced initial logistical problems but already the trucks have delivered WFP food to distribution points serving hundreds of thousands of people in remote areas.

The 209-strong fleet of powerful all-terrain vehicles, provided by the Norwegian government through the Norwegian Red Cross, is penetrating bush that conventional transport cannot. Bumping over rocky tracks, through sandy wastes and rivers sometimes in full flood, they had managed to deliver another 40,700 tonnes of food in Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe by late April.

The operational partnership with WFP has shown the importance of humanitarian agencies developing new strategies to collaborate and coordinate given the massive needs of southern Africa. The TSP operation allows the Red Cross and WFP, with WFP implementing partners handling final distribution, to maximize use of resources.

Prompt international intervention averted the threatened starvation of more than 14 million people. But hunger was not the crisis, only a symptom of a new and pernicious process consuming southern Africa: the interaction of HIV/AIDS with food insecurity, poverty, common disease and mismanagement now bringing the region to its knees.

Projections put the prevalence of HIV at well over 50 per cent in some areas where they foresee life expectancy dropping below 20 years by 2020. The workforce could be reduced by half even sooner.

The new harvest has brought little hope of reducing food insecurity for the most vulnerable people, and deteriorating health care, an accelerated spread of common disease, the appalling condition of water and sanitation, food shortage in urban areas and ineffective agriculture compound the problems.

The combined effect brings ever higher numbers of premature deaths, especially among families living with HIV/AIDS. In 2001, an estimated 497,000 new deaths from AIDS occurred in the five food crisis countries. The estimation for 2002 is likely to be higher. By 2010 between 20 and 33 per cent of children below the age of 15 will have lost one of both of their parents.

The threat of famine may have retreated for now but the crisis is only developing.

Side by side or face to face

This is the title of a photo exhibition by Swiss photographer Jean Mohr. The exhibition features some 70 photos of daily life in Israel and in the Palestinian territories between 1949 and 2002. Jean Mohr's work reflects, in its own subtle way, the turbulence of the region with its joys and tragedies. This exhibition, launched on 26 June in Jerusalem, will be shown in several towns in Israel and the Palestinian territories, as well as elsewhere in the Middle East. It will also tour some European cities, including Geneva. The exhibition is produced by the ICRC and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum.

The tragic end of an adventure

A fatal road accident on a high Chuchkhan mountain pass in southern Kyrgyzstan, ended the adventure and dream of French Red Cross volunteer Gérard Starck to symbolically link all the world's National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies by visiting each one.

The 57-year-old former racing car driver and sports journalist had begun his world tour with an official send-off from the International Federation secretariat in Geneva on 9 October 1997. His aim was to promote the humanitarian mission of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world and the commitment of their volunteers.

At the time of his death, he had completed visits to 148 National Societies on the five continents, clocking up some 200,000 km on his motorbike. At each stop, he handed over a red ribbon and a gift from the previous National Society he had visited and accepted one, to be given to the next one on his itinerary.

Gérard's unfailing enthusiasm and determination allowed him to overcome the many obstacles he encountered on his world tour. He had some 60 accidents on his six-year adventure.

Three days before his death, he met the president of the Red Crescent Society of Kazakhstan, Dr. Yerkebek Argymbaev, who said: "He shared with us his tireless energy and unquenchable enthusiasm. He wanted to show the world the uniqueness of the Red Cross Red Crescent network that links together National Societies, and he fulfilled his mission."

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