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Humanitarian crisis worsening, warn relief agencies
Thursday 10 March 2005
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SWAZILAND: Humanitarian crisis worsening, warn relief agencies

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


More than a quarter of Swaziland's population relies on food aid

MBABANE, 28 February (PLUSNEWS) - Relief agencies have warned that the humanitarian crisis in Swaziland, brought on by drought and aggravated by AIDS, is worsening.

"The food insecurity situation is going to continue for the next 12 months - people are not producing enough. Many sectors of the population, especially the elderly, will remain dependent on food aid," Abdoulaye Balde, country representative of the UN World Food Programme, (WFP) told PlusNews.

Balde was part of a high-powered delegation of representatives from the government, UN agencies and NGOs, who visited drought-stricken eastern and southern Swaziland last week. The country is experiencing its fourth consecutive year of drought.

Accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Albert Shabangu, the officials visited child-headed households near the Mozambican border, as well as food distribution points, school feeding schemes and neighbourhood care points that provide food for a growing population of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC).

Over 260,000 people - more than a quarter of the Swazi population - are receiving some form of food assistance. The tour found that 70 percent of the maize crop was destroyed by drought during February, which ended what had been a summer of reasonable rainfall. Cotton, normally a drought-resistant crop, was also fairing poorly, reported the delegation.

Shabangu felt that the crisis needed to be addressed by innovative strategies. A former farmer, the deputy prime minister called for improved farming technology and crop diversification.

"The Ministry of Agriculture is telling people to grow sorghum; I did not see any sorghum growing anywhere. I could also tell the maize fields had been planted with the seeds our grandfathers used. [Those seeds are] good for growing when there is plenty of rain ... in today's soil, if you don't use fertiliser, you get nothing. You could tell which fields were cultivated without fertiliser: the maize was stunted."

At a food distribution point in Shewula in eastern Swaziland, one of several hundred centres where WFP maize meal and cooking oil are provided to needy Swazis, Shabangu queried women about the farming conditions in the area.

"They told me they did not have oxen or money to hire tractors, or to buy fertiliser. I have concluded that we may have plenty of rain in the next few years, but we still won't see prosperous fields because there is no money for seeds, fertiliser and tractors," Shabangu said.

In a country with the world's highest HIV prevalence rate, AIDS is another factor affecting agricultural production. The population of farmers in the mountainous north and irrigated middleveld farms has dropped significantly, reportedly because of the disease.

Children who have lost parents to AIDS now head over 10 percent of the country's households, mostly in rural areas. Over 40 percent of households are headed by women, who earn less than men - when they can find jobs.

Noting that most volunteers at community development initiatives and food distribution points visited by the delegation were women, WFP's Balde said, "You hear that Swaziland is a very male-dominated society, but it is clear that any new interventions must involve women as a priority."

Among the 40 percent of children aged under five who show signs of chronic malnutrition the group discovered a five-year-old boy with a bloated stomach, the younger brother of Joyce Maziya, a 15-year-old in charge of six siblings.

"I don't know how far it is to school, but I leave at five in the morning. When I come back it is dark. I must cook and clean for my brothers and sisters. I have no time to take them to the clinic. We are alone," she told the delegation.

Dr Derek von Wissell, director of the National Emergency Response Committee on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA), which dispenses money from the Global Fund, government and private donors to health NGOs, said R2.4 billion (about US $413 million) would be needed to build modern facilities to accommodate the estimated 120,000 AIDS orphans expected by 2010. That amount of money is beyond the capacity of the impoverished nation's coffers.

"But there are things going right," von Wissell said. "Swazi chiefs now have 183 fields under cultivation for OVC. There is an acceptance by communities and chiefs that they have a responsibility [towards] OVC," he said.

Daniel Maduna, Swaziland Relief Manager of the humanitarian NGO, World Vision, said drought conditions were being mitigated by a programme of borehole drilling.

"We have drilled hundreds of boreholes, and our success rate is 65 percent. This has proven to be a temporary solution, but an adequate one so far. The long-term solution lies in laying pipes to water catchments like dams, and irrigation schemes," said Maduna, who is a hydrologist by training.

Ironically, developmental projects designed to overcome drought conditions are often hampered by the very lack of water. "We find that people can't even come to community development meetings because they are out searching for water, food and basic necessities. To be successful, projects must originate in communities, so the people on the ground can claim ownership and look after them," Maduna said.

Mduduzi Dlamini, manager of a UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) project specialising in water security initiatives, concurred. "Everywhere you go, the problem is water. We spoke with one woman who runs a neighbourhood care point for 40 children. She spends two hours a day fetching water - maybe 20 litres - which she carries on her head, [which is still] not enough for her and all the care point children."

A UNICEF initiative calls for substituting expensive electric borehole pumps with water harvesting, where rain running off roofs is collected in tanks. "But that can only be viable for institutions like schools, because of their large roof areas ... Also, to collect rain runoff, you need rain. There has not been any," said Dlamini.

Shabangu thanked the WFP, UNICEF and other humanitarian groups at work in the kingdom for providing the life-saving interventions that the government was incapable of providing.

"If we took away the intervention of WFP, NERCHA and the others, there would be no government. I would be face to face with the people and I would be kicked out," he said. "When people are desperate and without hope, they are very dangerous."


Recent SWAZILAND Reports
Targeting HIV/AIDS in the workplace,  17/Feb/05
HIV-positive women's group creates agricultural cooperative,  14/Feb/05
Top officials of trade unions publicly tested for HIV,  4/Feb/05
Tempers flare as govt pays orphans' school fees,  27/Jan/05
Increasing focus on paediatric care,  18/Jan/05
Le portail d'informations générales de la Côte d’Ivoire
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
Youth against AIDS
Making A difference for Children Affected by AIDS

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