Background on the Crisis
Swaziland has experienced droughts but the El Nino-related drought is perceived to be the worst in the past 35 years. Below normal rainfall throughout the 2015/16 rainy season and high temperatures contributed to significantly reduced water resources and led to acute water scarcity.
This has had a significantly negative impact on agricultural production especially staple maize production (64 per cent drop in production from 2014/15) and livestock numbers (13 per cent of the national herd size have perished). With over 70 per cent of Swazis relying on agriculture for food and income, the continued adverse weather conditions and their impact on crop and animal production will have a prolonged negative impact on the population.
In October 2016, the majority of subsistence farmers have not yet planted this season due to delayed rains, of up to two months in some areas, and a lack of farming inputs including a delayed input subsidy programme by the Government and FAO. If the majority of farmers do not plant this season they will not have food nor the resources to plant again in 2017.
This will further extend the period of food insecurity into early 2018 as Swaziland only has one main agricultural season.
Maize prices are already very high for the poorest households (63 per cent live below the poverty line) making food difficult to access in the markets. These households spend half of their income on food leaving little for other necessities which makes them very vulnerable. Prices are set to increase with expected fuel hikes in South Africa, whose cereal markets supply the region and from where Swaziland imports 85 per cent of its commodities. The July 2016 SVAC reports the gross domestic product (GDP) has declined from 0.3 per cent to 1.4 per cent from 2015 due to sharp declines in agriculture (including sugar, the main cash crop, which accounts for 21 per cent of the GDP).
Hydro-generating activities in the country have been suspended and the Government is meeting electricity needs by expensive imports from South Africa as part of the drought response.
The Electricity Company has proposed to increase costs by 20 per cent in 2017 to cover importation costs. This will drive the already high prices further up, negatively impacting on food access for the poorest households.
Scope of the Crisis
According to the Swaziland Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis, a projected 640,000 people are affected; 350,000 people are in need of urgent food and cash assistance from June 2016 to March 2017 and 290,000 people are in need of livelihood assistance at the peak of the 5-month lean period which starts in November 2016 and ends with the main harvest in March 2017. The National Disaster Management Agency confirms the growing number of food insecure people and as a result a total of 497,000 people have been targeted for food and livelihood assistance. The situation continues to be closely monitored.
The poor, pre-existing nutrition situation, as indicated by the underweight prevalence of 5.8 per cent and stunting rate of 25.5 per cent, is being exacerbated by the deteriorating food security and WASH conditions. A joint health and nutrition assessment and routine health management information system (HMIS) data reveal increasing malnutrition (wasting is increasing but remains below the 5 per cent threshold), anemia and mortality due to the reduced food access and availability caused by the drought. There is an increase in the number of people suffering from acute watery diarrhea (but no outbreaks have been reported. Pregnant and lactating women, people living with HIV/TB and non-communicable diseases especially diabetes are particularly affected. Reduced food availability and access (the latter caused by high and increased food prices) has led to poor adherence to HIV/TB treatment and increased defaulter rates in ART treatment including premature and low birth weight babies and low antenatal care attendance from 2014 and 2015.
There are increasing protection and gender concerns as vulnerable adolescent girls and women are walking longer distances in search of water as a result of the drought. Water and food scarcity is affecting economic capacity for families and compromises menstrual hygiene for adolescent girls as food is prioritised instead of their hygiene. As such some girls absent themselves from school during the menstrual period and some use unhygienic items such as newspapers making themselves susceptible to urinary tract infections. The country has not experienced and disease outbreak since the drought started but the risk is very high.
Water, sanitation and hygiene remain a challenge despite the nominal rainfall received in October 2016 which has been insufficient to offset the acute water stress that communities are experiencing. To date, approximately 300,000 people are unable to access potable water, and the number of non-functional water points have increased by 30 per cent since last year. According to the WASH Cluster, the drought has impacted 78 per cent of the country’s primary and secondary schools, and more than 332,000 students have been affected by lack or erratic availability of water at their schools. The water situation is worsening (there is a reported 50 per cent decline in water sources), health centres and schools are the hardest hit by reduced water availability hence affecting healthcare service provision and school attendance. Water rationing has been extended to two urban centres; Mbabane, the capital city and Hlatikhulu, a rural town. Mbabane CBD is currently receiving water from an intervention of the government’s response plan which involves abstracting and treating water from the Mbabane-Pholinjane River as abstraction from Hawane Dam has been shut down.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.