Thursday, October 15, 2015


The Swaziland Government has been blamed for not acting quickly enough nor giving the financial support it promised to avert a ‘national disaster’ as cattle die and people go hungry in drought-hit areas of the kingdom.
The government had promised it would devote 10 percent of the national budget to agriculture, but instead only allocated 3.5 percent, according to a report just published.

This was at a time when the budget for King Mswati III, who rules the kingdom as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, increased by 25 percent over the previous year and amounted to E792 million (US$79.2 million), roughly half the E1.5 billion allocated to agriculture.

This extent of the drought was revealed in a study commissioned by the Swaziland Economic Justice Network (SEJUN) on poverty in outlying areas, particular in the Lubombo region. Among some of the areas it visited in the first week of October 2015 were Siphofaneni, Gucuka, Sithobeklweni, Big Bend, Nsoko, Lubulini, Zindwendweni, Somntongo and Maloam. 

The report concluded the situation, ‘now borders on a national disaster and quick and decisive intervention [is] needed’.

On Wednesday (14 October 2015) SEJUN reported, ‘We are, however, disappointed that government has not acted with the requisite speed to try and find short and long term solutions to the problems of draught not just the Lubombo region but the entire country. In our visit we were informed that in one family they had lost close to 43 cattle owing to draught while other families have not planted anything for their own livelihood in over a year.’

SEJUN reported the Swazi Government allocated only E1.5 billion in the 2014/2015 national budget towards agriculture. ‘This is despite that in 2002 she signed the Maputo declaration which states that she would allocate nothing less than 10 percent of the national budget towards agriculture. This year’s budget allocation to agriculture was about 3.5 percent of the national budget.’

SEJUN added Swaziland lagged behind other African countries, ‘in terms of developing agriculture to be the main driver of the Swazi economy, especially as our rural agriculture has not been integrated into mainstream economy. For example, our people in rural areas still use manual labour for agriculture which does not reflect modern ways of engaging in agriculture.’

SEJUN reported, ‘Swaziland is ranked as a lower middle-income country yet income distribution within the country is extremely unequal. The wealthiest 10 percent of the population account for nearly half of total consumption and there is an ever-widening gap between urban and rural development. There are clear signs that poverty and unemployment are on the rise. About 84 percent of the country’s poor people live in rural areas, where per capita income is about four times lower than in urban areas, and food consumption is two times lower. 

‘A large proportion of rural households practice subsistence agriculture. About 66 percent of the population is unable to meet basic food needs, while 43 per cent live in chronic poverty. 

‘When drought hit Swaziland in 2004 and 2005 more than one quarter of the country’s population required emergency food aid.’

To underline the income inequality in Swaziland, in June 2015, the Nation magazine, an independent monthly publication in Swaziland, revealed that the budget for King Mswati and the royal household rose 25 percent in 2015 from E630 million [US$63 million] the previous year to E792 million.

SEJUN said the effects of the drought in Swaziland were, ‘a result of long-term environmental degradation and policy blunders at all levels’.

It said, among others, the following measures were needed:

‘Strengthen, improve early warning systems to prepare local people and build their resilience before the disaster hits;

‘The National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) needs proper financing or enhancement. The Swaziland government need to set aside adequate funding to address impact of climate change without relying much on donor community.’

‘SEJUN added, ‘We therefore propose that as an immediate solution the problems of draught in the Lubombo region the following needed to be done:

‘The Minister of Agriculture as well as Minister of Health must visit the affected areas for a first-hand account of what is happening around these areas. This will assist the Honourable Ministers to develop ideas and suggestions which would serve the remaining livestock and prevent any human loss of lives through practising safety precautions. 

‘This is because the poverty stricken people of these areas tend to eat some of the decaying meat and this is a health hazard and could cause an outbreak of many diseases. Some of the cattle die in the muddy streams only to find that downstream there are people who are using the water for cooking and washing. This is an early warning that very soon we could face problems of loss of human life.

‘Immediate water and food supply to the people. This is necessitated by the fact that it is not just animals that are affected by this drought but ordinary people too who have not planted any crop in the last year owing to the drought. These people were surviving by selling their cattle and right now there is no longer anything they can sell nor eat. Government must immediately assist the our people with food and water.

‘The government must immediately provide hay as a temporary measure for those cattle that have survived the drought. Government also needs to dispatch a veterinary team to inspect if the cattle have not been infected by any diseases and to assist the people in getting their cattle back. 

‘Government, working with the communities, must also assist identify and burn the dead and decomposing cattle in an environmentally safe way.’

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