Swaziland: Humanitarian Needs Overview 2016


Swaziland is one of the hard hit countries in the widespread drought affecting Southern Africa. Over 300,000 people (25% of the population) inclusive of 135,144 children are facing acute food shortage due to poor rainfall in the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 cropping season which is attributed to the El Nino phenomenon. The poor rainfall started during the 2014/2015 agricultural season and has persisted during the 2015/2016 agricultural season. The 2014/15 cropping season was characterised by prolonged dry spells resulting in widespread crop losses and reduced yields and was one of the worst maize production years in Swaziland. Following on a poor agricultural year, the current growing season is characterized by severe and widespread rainfall deficits and is deemed regionally to be the lowest recorded rainfall in the SADC region, in at least 35 years.

On 18 February 2016 the Swaziland Government declared the drought a national emergency launched the National Emergency Response, Mitigation and Adaptation Plan (NERMAP) and invited the International Community to assist.


Swaziland is currently experiencing a severe El Niño-induced drought, with concomitant acute food and water shortages. The current agricultural season (October 2015-April 2016) is deemed to have the lowest recorded rainfall in the SADC region in at least 35 years. This drought follows a poor 2014/15 season which was characterized by long dry spells and uneven rainfall distribution.

Constrained Agriculture and Food Security

Rains came 30 to 60 days later than normal. In October 2015, usually the start of the rainy season, precipitation was 82 per cent lower than in October 2014. The first rains allowing for agricultural activities were received only in December 2015, and these were still 17 per cent lower than in December 2014. Preliminary estimates from the Ministry of Agriculture indicate that the total area planted during this agricultural season (culminating with the main harvest in April) has decreased by 47 per cent from about 87,000 ha to 46,000 ha when compared to the 2014/15 agricultural year. Total maize production is expected to be about 33,500 tons, representing a 64 per cent reduction from the 2014/2015 production.

Yet even 2014/2015 was a poor agricultural season – 31 per cent lower than the 2013/14 harvest, meaning the current El Niño-induced drought is compounding an already fragile situation of depleted water and soil moisture reserves and poor grazing conditions. The effects of the drought are expected to last at least until the 2017 harvest.

In July 2015, the Swaziland Vulnerability Assessment report, corroborated by the 2015 Crop and Food Security Assessment, showed that about 50,000 people were in need of food assistance at the time of the assessment, and projected that levels of food insecurity would increase as the 2015/2016 lean season progressed. With the current drought, the food security situation is now forecasted to become significantly worse during the current 2016/2017 lean season as 75 per cent of household assessed indicated that they have depleted their food stocks. The drought has pushed the number of people in need of food assistance to an estimated 300,000, which accounts for about 26 per cent of the total population. In the worst case scenario, up to 538,000 people – 45% of the population, may require food assistance.

The preliminary results from a multi-sectoral rapid assessment, conducted in February 2016 by the Government and stakeholders, confirmed Lubombo and Shiselweni regions as the most affected.

Livestock is an important asset of the population not only in terms of social status and livelihoods but also for nutrition. According to the Government, an estimated 64,000 cattle have already perished in the drought – more than 10 per cent of the country’s herd, threatening lives and livelihoods.

The February 2016 rapid assessment also showed that households are resorting to extreme coping mechanisms, including reducing the amount of food they eat (68 per cent of people indicated they have reduced their number of meals), borrowing food, and 63 percent of people interviewed indicated they have reduced the diversity of their diet by limiting the types of foods consumed. Access to markets and affordability has also been impacted. About 44 per cent of people interviewed in the rapid assessment indicated having incurred extra cost due to the need to travel further to buy food due to decreased availability at local markets, in addition to the increase in food prices. As a net importer of food, Swaziland is in fact also vulnerable to increase in food prices in the region and the effects have already started to manifest. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that not only Swaziland, but indeed the entire Southern African region, has been hit by the drought. South Africa, on which Swaziland relies for food importation, has also seen a significant reduction in maize production. According to AgriSA, South Africa’s white maize prices have increased by 150 per cent over the past 12 months alone. In January 2016, the Swaziland National Maize Corporation increased the official price of maize by 66 per cent. This means that even where maize may be available on the market, its price will put it well beyond the means of most, particularly given the fact that 63 per cent of Swazis live below the poverty line.

Increasing challenges from lack of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)

Access to potable water is a great need in the current drought, with many of the 300,000 people facing food shortages also lacking access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene services, thereby increasing the risk of disease outbreaks. Indeed, the current drought has resulted in severe water shortages both in rural and urban areas. At the onset of the drought, 28 per cent of rural water supply schemes were nonfunctional and 4 per cent were partially functional especially in the hard hit areas of south-east and eastern Swaziland. Many of the affected communities switched to alternate water sources such as springs, rivers and earth dams. However due to the lack of rainfall and successive heat waves (another characteristic of El Nino), surface water bodies have gone dry, which have left communities without water supply and in great need for external water supply support. Yet sanitation in rural areas poses a surmountable challenge if hygiene sensitization is effected as most households use dry sanitation facilities.

Rural water supply is heavily dependent on ground water, with 78 per cent of rural water supply schemes using ground water. With poor ground water recharge more water systems are beginning to yield less water as the drought worsens. Government working with the private sector is supplying communities around farms/estates with tanked water to strategic reservoirs. Yet more communities need the same support to survive the current drought.

The water crisis is also affecting service delivery in the Education and Health sectors. Schools, tertiary institutions and clinics are in need of water supply support as their current sources are affected by the decline in rainfall.

The water reservoir servicing the capital Mbabane is currently below 10 per cent capacity with multiple-day water rationing having been commissioned. This is affecting water, sanitation and hygiene access to the 76,000 people living in the capital. With failing of the sanitation system, alternative sanitation facilities will need to be provided for urban communities as other towns in the country are also facing the same threat.

Increasing risk for Health and Nutrition

Children under age 5 constitute 13.6 per cent of the affected population. This generation of children is now at enormous risk of malnutrition due to acute food scarcity in their communities and need nutrition support urgently. Preexisting conditions such as underweight prevalence of 5.8 per cent and stunting at 25.5 per cent are expected to increase if no assistance is provided. Pregnant and lactating mothers are especially at risk.

The malnutrition risk faced by the affected population is exacerbated by the deteriorating food security and WASH conditions. This necessitates continued malnutrition screening at health facilities and communities for prevention, early detection and treatment of severe acute malnutrition throughout the drought and recovery period.

Health facilities, according to preliminary results of the 2016 rapid assessment (which covered 31 per cent of clinics) reported an increase in the number of diarrhea cases, which is expected to increase in the coming months as the country enters its dry winter. Disease surveillance systems are on high alert, especially in cholera-prone areas, even though no confirmed case has yet been reported (neighboring Mozambique is reporting outbreaks). The risk is higher for the high density residential areas in and around urban centers. Water supply to health facilities will be essential as some clinics experienced temporary closure due to lack of water, affecting service delivery to communities.

Impact on Education

The current drought has affected 661 (about 78 per cent) primary and secondary schools country-wide, with 40 institutions in the Mbabane presenting the greater challenge due to the rationing of water supply - at times up to four days. The drought has impacted 189,000 learners and 8,200 teachers and support staff. A February 2016 rapid assessment revealed the use of boreholes as the main source of water in schools, especially in Manzini (70 per cent), Shiselweni (54 per cent), Manzini (37 per cent) and Lubombo (30 per cent).

The assessment indicated that 57 per cent of the sampled schools rely on water harvesting. Taking into consideration the decrease in the water table, most of these schools may require alternative water supplies as the drought persists with minimal recharge of ground water.

Global assessments indicate that 40 per cent of diarrhea cases among pupils can be traced back to their schools, hence the urgent need to address WASH services in affected schools.
The drought has the capacity to affect children’s attendance which may become erratic as water collection sources become scarce and further away from their homes.

Attention needs to be given to the construction of toilets that are desegregated by gender in accordance with national standards. The survey findings from the sampled schools showed that schools within the country have 2 types of toilets: flush and ventilation-improved pit latrine (VIP) toilets, and that 6 per cent of flush toilets in schools have no water for their use.

School feeding schemes are very important in supporting the nutrition of children within the affected communities, with the need for an additional morning meal to supplement the lack of food in households, to safe guard their academic performance which may decline due to hunger. However, the assessment showed that 22 per cent of schools (189) reported to be facing serious challenges in their feeding programmes: approximately 73,000 learners went without food at some point during the term due to water shortage.

The rapid assessment results revealed that about 71 per cent of sampled institutions had not conducted practical subjects due to limited water supply, compromising the quality of education.

Drought and Sexual and Gender based Violence (SGBV)

Incidences of SGBV can also increase with drought and food and water scarcity. In many communities, women and girls are the main caregivers in the family. Women as family caretakers and sometimes supported girls may have to trek long distances to remote locations to collect water for household use, and this may expose them to sexual harassment, violence and rape. Food scarcity may inherently lead to tensions within the households, thus increasing the likelihood of domestic violence. Women may suffer reprisal attacks for their participation in food aid assistance activities by their partners in some communities and aid workers may sexually exploit women in exchange for access to relief assistance.

In cases of drought (and actually in any humanitarian crisis), sexual intercourse is often used as a commodity in exchange for food. This situation subjects the powerless victims, the majority being adolescent girls and women, to emotional trauma, physical injury, HIV and STI transmission, and unwanted pregnancies. For adolescent girls, such experiences will mostly lead them to drop out of school, hence curtailing their opportunities in life. Although reports of gender-based violence acts are increasing in the country, awareness about sexual exploitation and gender-based violence as violation of an individual’s rights continues to be low. According to MICS 2014, 20 per cent of women reported that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife in at least one of the following circumstances: (1) she goes out without telling him, (2) she neglects the children, (3) she argues with him,

(4) she refuses sex with him; (5) she burns the food. This is an indication of level of awareness and perceptions towards abuse in normal circumstances, which could be severely perpetuated by the prevailing drought situation. The strong cultural practice of keeping cases of sexual abuse within the community or family permeates all levels of society.

The ongoing emergency has the potential to cause humanitarian consequences such as gender-based violence, sexual and economic abuse and difficulty in accessing integrated sexual and reproductive health services. The most affected and vulnerable groups to exploitation, violence and abuse in the context of drought include women and youth, especially girls, OVCs and adolescents. Adolescent girls are particularly at risk of urinary tract infections due to poor menstrual hygiene associated with poor sanitary conditions.
According to the Royal Swaziland Police Services (RSPS) 2014 Annual Report, 2,253 cases of GBV cases were recorded, which include rape, grievous assaults, murders and other forms of violence within the domestic or household setting. About 50 per cent of these cases were of rape. With disasters such as drought and lack of food and water, such occurrences are bound to increase.

Almost 1 in 2 (48 per cent) women experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime and 1 in 5 (18.8 per cent) of women have had coerced sex before they were 18. Reporting of violence is still low at 7 per cent. According to statistics from the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA), there is an increase in the number of abuse cases and clients seen in the past six months. The numbers of cases were 119 in October 2015, 142 in September 2015, 72 in December 2015, 137 in January 2016 and 142 in February 2016. Manzini region is the leading region followed by Lubombo and Hhohho regions. With the on-going drought, an increase is anticipated as shortage of food will be great. From the reports, 80 per cent of these abuse cases are occurred at home.

Drought and separation of children from the families

UN experience in other countries indicates that in drought situations children, both girls and boys, especially from the most affected regions, get separated from their parents or legal guardians as they are sent to look for food in places with better food supply such as in the big cities. Adolescent boys and girls may also be sent to urban centres to find casual work for money to buy food for the family. In other circumstances, it is the parents who leave their children back home, mostly in rural areas, and go to cities to look for employment. When children are not under the care of their parents/ guardians they become more susceptible to abuse and exploitation.
The immediate effects of these negative coping mechanisms is that children drop out of school, get exposed to risks of sexual abuse and exploitation, and hence infection of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV; pregnancy rates also increase.

The UN will support its partners, especially those with rural outreach, to monitor the trends in family coping mechanisms. Where protection concerns are identified, the UN will provide support to keep children safe from sexual abuse and exploitation and also prevent separation from their parents

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:
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