• On 18 February 2016 the Government declared a national state of emergency due to the drought, as El Nino impacts become more apparent.
• Maize production fell by 31 per cent in 2015, and is expected to be lower in the 2016 crop season, placing at least 300,000 people - a third of the population - in dire need of assistance, specifically with for food and water.
• Hawane Dam, which supplies Mbabane, stands at 17 per cent capacity, with water supply from 20 days to 8 weeks.
• Nation-wide, the drought has affected 189,000 learners and 8,157 teachers and support staff of which 23,633 learners and 1,654 teachers are in Mbabane area.
• A comprehensive joint multi-sectoral drought response and mitigation plan has been developed, led by Government, requiring $80.5m to cover immediate and medium term needs.
The Government of Swaziland declared a national drought disaster on 18 February 2016 in response to extended El Nino-induced drought conditions dating back to 2014. These conditions are expected to continue until March/April 2016 with the effects forecasted to last into 2017. According to the National Meteorology Department, Swaziland received below normal rainfall from Oct 2014 to Feb 2015. This has led to low water levels in dams, poor replenishment of ground water sources, low agricultural yields and poor pastures and vegetation cover. The recently issued Government National Drought Emergency Mitigation and Adaptation Plan estimates that a minimum of 300,000 people, (about one third of the population) will need food assistance starting from March 2016. This number could increase from May 2016 onwards, particularly as most farmers missed the planting window.
Ninety per cent of Swaziland’s sugar cash crop relies on irrigation, which has significantly been hampered by the rationing of water. Sugarcane harvests, which accounts for a staggering 21 per cent of Swaziland’s GDP, has been hit hard, spelling trouble for government finances and possible service delivery. Maize production was already down 31 per cent in 2015 and expected to be lower in 2016.
Swaziland’s situation is part of the regional southern Africa drought, brought about by a powerful El Nino. South Africa, on which Swaziland relies for food importation, has also seen a significant reduction in maize production, leading to price increases of 66 per cent (National Maize Corporation, 2016).
Nearly one-third of the rural population has a high expenditure on food, thus having little capacity to cope with the combined effects of production shortfalls and increased market prices, and can quickly fall further into food insecurity. Swaziland has seen an increase of food insecurity in the country with many households unable to eat three meals a day. The number of food insecure households has risen to 23 per cent, in 2015. Moderate food insecurity has increased to 18.2 percent from a previous four-year average of 9.8 percent, and acute food insecurity increased to 5.5 percent from an average of 3 percent. Acute malnutrition rates have increased by 2.5 per cent from the average of 3 to 5.5 per cent.
Livestock are important assets of the population not only in terms of social status and livelihoods but also for nutrition. According to the Government, by end of January 2016 about 38,000 had died due to lack of water and fodder, leaving coping mechanisms seriously constrained. The close proximity to water in livestock deaths also carries and increasing potential for the spread of diseases.
The Hawane Dam, which feeds the capital, Mbabane, stands at 17 per cent, enough from one to three weeks only. The city has started water rationing for the first time in its history. Rivers flows are very low in all five major rivers - below critical environmental sustenance levels. The situation is worse than during the great 1992 drought. Government is planning various initiatives to provide its people with enough water, such as drilling boreholes and water trucking.
The reduction of water has impacted the education of children as (especially urban) schools depend on flushing toilet systems; but even in the rural areas, existing boreholes are running dry. In all 189,000 learners and 8,157 teachers and support staff has been affected nationally of which 23,633 learners and 1 654 teachers and support staff are from around Mbabane, according to recent assessments.
The situation also puts almost 197,157 students, teachers and workers nationally, at risk of water borne diseases and malnutrition, due to the water, sanitation/hygiene conditions. Another main concern is the contamination of water which can increase the number of water-borne diseases in the country.
The country has one of the highest prevalence of HIV-infected adults (26 per cent of people aged 15-49). Food insecurity in the country affects anti-retroviral (ARV) intake as ARVs are meant to be taken with food and water. It also affects access to medical facilities as some people are unable to make the journey to the facilities due to illness, weakness or lack of finances.
In order to mitigate the above challenges, Government has developed a National Drought Mitigation and Adaptation Plan (NERMAP) in consultation with diverse stakeholders. The plan takes a sustainable approach towards disaster risk reduction outlining both immediate and mediate term actions (costed at $80.5 m). NERMAP prioritizes food and water security through intensified local maize production and rehabilitation and expansion of water systems to increase access to potable water.