- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2002

BARCELONA, Spain — Policy-makers at the International AIDS Conference say the disease's relentless march is posing a major challenge to the nation-state system.

A decade or so from now, they suggest, the ravaging economic toll and social stress caused by AIDS could drive some of the poorest, worst-hit countries into anarchy and civil war.

Like Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and, until just recently, Afghanistan, such countries could join the ranks of non-states nations that exist in name and on paper and maybe have a United Nations seat, but have no government worthy of the name, no rule of law or any economy beyond a black market.

They are dangerous because they have no coherent leader, often being ruled by unpredictable thugs. Such places are not only seething pits of discontent and dislocation, but also become a haven for drug barons, international criminals on the run and, as Afghanistan showed, international terrorist groups.

Peter Piot, executive director of the U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS, said the risk of turmoil is high when people are condemned to de facto death sentences for lack of anti-retroviral drugs.

"If one-third of your adult population, including the professionals, die within a decade or so, that means an implosion of society. When you have millions of orphans growing up in an environment without families, you have what I would call desocialized youth," he said.

"You are definitely going into very unstable states, where people are desperate," he said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said the United States was earmarking more than $16 billion a year to fight AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, primarily on humanitarian grounds, "because it's the right thing to do."

"But we also realize fully that unless we do something, there are countries that are going to be very unstable in the future because of the decimation this terrible disease is going to raise in those countries," he said.

"You know as well as I do that international terrorists will go wherever they can in order to flourish their hatred and their convictions and assaults on humanity."

A report issued last week by UNAIDS said 20 million people had already died of AIDS and 40 million more have HIV, 70 percent of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

By 2020, another 68 million could die.

Once the infection enters the mainstream population of a poor economy where no treatment is available, the impact multiplies. Families are impoverished, children orphaned and economies deprived of workers.

As the crisis deepens, governments become discredited and a target for discontent.

"If effective responses are not introduced and the epidemic is allowed to grow unchecked, the multiple effects could cascade across society, heightening the risk of insecurity," the UNAIDS report warned.

The worst-hit population is in Botswana, where 38.8 percent of the adult population is HIV-positive. There, according to a study by the U.S. Census Bureau, life expectancy is only 39 years.

The study contends that, as a result of AIDS, five countries Botswana, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa will experience net population loss by 2010.

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