News24, , Zim 'worst' in southern Africa

Harare - Zimbabwe is worst off among the six southern African countries threatened with famine, which is a crisis rooted in the Aids epidemic and not just crop failures and hunger, a top UN official said on Thursday.

Stephen Lewis, the UN's special envoy on HIV/Aids in Africa, told a press conference that southern Africa was facing "deadly human destruction" due to famine because the immune systems of many people have been run down due to HIV/Aids.

Fifteen million people in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique are threatened with starvation, and five million adults are living with HIV/Aids in these six countries.

"Zimbabwe in many ways is the epicentre in southern Africa - it's where everything at the moment amongst the six countries is at its worst," said Lewis.

Nearly eight million people, or more than two-thirds of Zimbabwe's population of 11.6 million, are threatened with famine. And at least 2.2 million Zimbabweans are living with HIV/Aids.

"There's no question that this calamity is something that neither this country, nor the continent nor any of us have ever dealt with before," Lewis noted.

The special envoy, who is on a trip to four of the six affected countries, including Zimbabwe, met on Thursday with President Robert Mugabe.

Asked whether he felt the Zimbabwean government was doing enough to deal with the crisis, the UN envoy said Mugabe had spoken "with concern" about the crisis.

"I got the sense when he (Mugabe) was talking of someone who was certainly deeply aware of what was happening," said Lewis.

He said he held a serious discussion with Mugabe about possible methods of intervention that could be used to overcome the crisis.

Deputy Finance Minister Chris Kuruneri was reported by the Ziana state news agency as having told Lewis the number of Zimbabweans needing food aid had climbed to eight million people from the previous figure of 6.7 million. - Sapa-AFP