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IRIN PlusNews HIV/AIDS News and information service | Southern Africa | SWAZILAND: Drought, hunger and AIDS, but still coping | Children | Focus
Sunday 25 December 2005
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SWAZILAND: Drought, hunger and AIDS, but still coping

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


Naomi Gule in her vegetable garden

BHUNYA, 5 May (PLUSNEWS) - Naomi Gule blames AIDS for the 45 parentless children she looks after at the neighbourhood care centre, an hour's drive south of the Swazi capital, but she blames the weather for frustrating her efforts to feed her charges.

"All summer, it has been too little rain or too much rain, or a spell of good growth at the school garden - all destroyed in just some minutes by a hailstorm," she said.

She picks through the remnants of stunted cabbage that sprout from the hard stony soil of the Neighbourhood Care Point's tiny wire-enclosed garden. Nearby, a small boy struggles to sprinkle the few surviving cabbages with a disproportionately large watering can.

He attends the nearby Bhunya Primary School and, like 30 other fellow students, walks a kilometre uphill each day for lunch at the care point - an expanding nationwide initiative to provide support for the country's swelling numbers of orphans and vulnerable children.

"These are poor children, and we provide them with what is often their only hot meal of the day," Gule said.

She is grateful to the World Food Programme (WFP) for providing the maize flour and protein-rich corn-soya blend that constitute the bulk of the children's meals, but frets over the monotony of their daily diets, which the garden was intended to relieve.

"We were given the tools by UNICEF [the UN Children's Fund] to fence off our garden plot, and plant vegetables - it is good to have green roughage in the children's meals. I am really saddened by the weather - the hailstones smashed just about everything that was growing, just as they were getting big, and ... broke the windows of the care point," she recalled.

A new study by the National Emergency Early Warning Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture, released last week, found erratic rainfall and hot summer weather the main culprits in the country's ongoing food crisis.

"The early summer crops that suffered inadequate rainfall and storm damage have not recovered," said the report, which lamented that a country once self-sufficient in food production would once again fail to feed its own people.

Jameson Ginindza, director of the National Disaster Relief Task Force, said the number of Swazis receiving some form of food assistance had risen by one-fifth since the beginning of the year, to a historic high that, by mid-April, surpassed earlier projections for Swaziland's food needs.

"The original number of people needing food aid was estimated to be 245,000 at the time the harvests are due, which is now - these were people mostly in the southern and eastern regions - but a severe storm in January devastated the middle region of the country, which is our agricultural heartland, and suddenly there were over 80,000 new people in need," Ginindza explained.

In a national population thought to be slightly over one million, the disaster relief task force has estimated that about 330,000 people require some form of food assistance.

Abdolaya Balde, country representative for WFP, the country's principal supplier of emergency food relief, confirmed the figure, but with a caveat.

"We cannot say that one-third of the country is in danger of famine - people's needs vary. For some, there is no alternative to complete food assistance, while others, like children involved in food feeding schemes, require supplementary food," Balde told PlusNews.

He said the spike in the number of people needing food was attributable to the January storms in the middleveld, but otherwise the pattern of inclement weather in recent years was repeated in 2005, keeping the number of people who needed food in the southern and eastern regions stable at 245,000.

"Like last year and the year before, there was adequate rain in early summer, but in February, just when the maize crops were beginning to tassel [flowering stage], the rains stopped for a month. It was too late for many fields when the rains returned in March," Balde said.

The story of erratic rainfall is well known to Felix Nkambule, a 45-year-old maize farmer in the eastern Lubombo Region. His field is now an expanse of spiky weeds and dead, windblown tree branches. Like virtually all farmers on communal Swazi Nation Land, he depends on rainfall to water the crops that feed his family of nine, including his parents, wife and five children.

"The rains began a little late, but when it was falling I planted, and I prayed. Christmas, it is raining; January, it is raining still. But then, no rain - I watched my crop die."

Nkambule allowed his cattle to feed on the stunted maize stalks, finding at least some use for the doomed crop. After they had finished, the weeds soon took over.

"We are grateful for food assistance, but my worry is things like the children's school fees. There was always some of the crop to be sold, and that brought us a little money. Not this year," he said.

His wife, Ncane, collects the family's allotment of food twice a month from a distribution centre supplied by WFP and managed by the international developmental NGO, World Vision.

Ncane is the SiSwati word for "small", and the name used to be ironic, she said, but no more.

"I was a fat woman, big and strong, but having no food has made me shrink. When you are hungry, you are tired all the time; you get dizzy. I cannot push the wheelbarrow to the food [distribution point]. I pay a man with a truck R10 (US $1.60) to take our supplies to our house.

"It is costly, but there is no other way. There is no room in the truck for me, I walk home," she said in a voice sounding as fatigued as if she had just walked the dusty, seven kilometres to her house.


Recent SWAZILAND Reports
HIV positive Swazis take govt to task over ARV supply,  6/Dec/05
Relief for the elderly as pensions go up,  21/Nov/05
Hospitals run out of ARVs,  18/Nov/05
Country's first urban OVC care centre rising to the needs,  15/Nov/05
New law says death to child rapists in fight against AIDS,  9/Nov/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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