Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Children at risk of food poisoning as Swaziland Govt’s financial crisis continues

Schoolchildren in Swaziland / eSwatini are at risk of poisoning because they only have rotten food to eat after the government failed to deliver supplies because it has run out of money.

The academic year started last week and schools, especially in rural areas, have not received supplies. Children rely on free food to avoid starvation. The crisis has been going on for many years and there seems to be no end.

The Times of Swaziland reported on Tuesday (29 January 2019) that some schools have had no supplies of food since September last year. What food that is left has become rotten, it reported head teachers saying. It is mainly beans and mealie meal.

It quoted one saying, ‘The food is now contaminated but we are forced to use it.’ He added, ‘We need fresh food urgently.’

The Times reported another head teacher said, ‘In these rural schools, it is impossible for us to teach without giving food to the pupils because for many, this is their only healthy meal.’

The Times added, ‘The delay in delivering of food to schools is putting pupils’ health at a high risk of eating contaminated and rotten food.’

The food crisis in Swaziland is long-running. In February 2018, children were warned to prepare themselves for starvation as the government once again failed to deliver free food to schools. The Swazi Observer reported at the time that schools relying on government aid – known as the zondle programme – ‘must brace themselves for starvation as the Ministry of Education and Training has failed to deliver food to schools on time’.

It quoted one school principal who wanted to remain anonymous, ‘The pupils should brace themselves for starvation because there is no available food in the school, and they have exhausted the food that was left last year.’

Schools have also been forced to close because of food shortages.

In June 2017 it was reported more than 200 pupils children at Mphundle High School were treated for food poisoning after allegedly being served contaminated meat.

In a report in August 2018 the World Food Program said 45 percent of children in Swaziland were orphaned or vulnerable. Chronic malnutrition was a main concern and stunting affected 26 percent of children under the age of five. An estimated 77 percent of Swazis relied on subsistence farming for their livelihoods.   

There seems no end to the crisis. In June 2018 headteachers and principals told the Swazi Observer they were in huge debt and unable to pay suppliers. It said the problem was with the government which faced financial challenges. 

The Swaziland national budget has been mismanaged for years. Swaziland is broke and the government is living from hand to mouth. In June 2018 the then Finance Minister Martin Dlamini told the House of Assembly that as of 31 March 2018 government owed E3.28 billion. Dlamini said budget projections indicated ‘exponential growth in the arrears’. 

The spotlight on spending in Swaziland intensified when in April 2018 at a party to mark both his 50th birthday and the anniversary of Swaziland’s Independence from Great Britain, King Mswati III, the kingdom’s absolute monarch, wore a watch worth US$1.6 million and a suit weighing 6 kg studded with diamonds. Days earlier he had taken delivery of his second private jet. This one, an Airbus A340, cost US$13.2 to purchase but with VIP upgrades was estimated to have cost US$30 million.

Meanwhile, seven in ten of the 1.2 million population live in abject poverty with incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 per day.

See also

Bad food poisons 200 Swazi pupils

Swazi Govt ‘runs out of cash’

Lavish spending leads to food aid cut

Hunger forces schools to close early

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