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Iraq-Obsessed Media Ignores Africa, UN Says

by Thalif Deen

Good/Bad Reporting on African AIDS (2001)
(IPS) -- The international community and the news media are paying too much attention to Iraq and too little to the calamities facing Africa, senior UN officials say.

The African continent, they warn, is being threatened by a famine, destabilized by an intense civil war in Ivory Coast and endangered by an AIDS epidemic made worse by a shortage of funds.

The AIDS pandemic in Africa has been getting worse by the day, Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS, told a press conference.

Lewis, who just returned to New York after visiting Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia, said the epidemic can not be allowed to continue, and those who watch it unfold "with a kind of pathological equanimity" must be held to account.

"There may yet come a day when we have peacetime tribunals to deal with this particular version of crimes against humanity," he added.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan also lamented that Iraq and Palestine are "the only crises in the headlines."

The news media, he said, have been passionately focusing on Iraq. "Why is it that we focus only on one?" he asked.

Annan said the UN Security Council should remain fixed on Iraq, but the other arms of the United Nations and the international community should deal with other issues, specifically the famine in Africa, the spread of AIDS and global poverty.

The worldwide AIDS epidemic, he said, will claim many more lives this year than even a war in Iraq would, "and then go on claiming more and more lives in 2004 and 2005."

In southern Africa and the Horn of Africa, Annan pointed out, as many as 30 million people face the threat of starvation this year.

"And poverty everywhere is condemning mothers and infants to premature deaths, sending them to bed hungry, denying them clear drinking water, and keeping them away from school."

Carolyn McAskie, the UN's deputy emergency relief coordinator, said that the humanitarian situation in Ivory Coast is going from bad to worse.

Nearly one million of the country's 16 million people has been displaced and uprooted since last December, she said. "The scale of displacement is enormous, caused by the fighting in the west of the country."

The economic centre of West Africa, Ivory Coast attracts thousands of people from neighboring countries, including Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea and Liberia, said McAskie.

So far, about 130,000 of them have fled for home while 23,000 Ivorians have sought refuge in neighboring countries.

Health care in the north of the country has been severely affected, she added.

"The delivery of supplies had been disrupted and the civil servants working in the north were fleeing south to Abidjan, so a lot of clinics and schools were closing and lot of basic services were not operating."

According to Lewis, African countries are increasingly demonstrating the political will to fight HIV/AIDS, but they lack money.

"As bad as things were in southern Africa -- and they were terrible -- every country I visited exhibited strengths and hopes," he said.

One of the saddest manifestations of a society "coming apart at the seams", added Lewis, was the growing rate of sexual abuse of children and adolescents, "which had reached shocking proportions."

An astronomic number of orphans is a new phenomenon for which there is no evident solution, he said, and has created a growing number of orphaned street children, orphan gangs and orphan delinquency.

Annan said the crisis in Zimbabwe and the civil war in Ivory Coast are other issues crying out for attention.

The tragic situation in Zimbabwe, which has been deprived of Western economic and food aid because of allegations of electoral fraud, is caused partly by the forces of nature and partly by mismanagement, said the UN chief.

"We could debate endlessly which of them made the greater contribution," he added

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Albion Monitor March 5, 2003 (

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