SWAZILAND: Only $3.1 million to feed 400,000

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Despite the worst harvest in the country's recorded history and the aftermath of fires that destroyed crops and plantations, Swaziland's appeals for international assistance are falling on deaf donor ears.

In July UN agencies appealed for US$18 million to feed about 40 percent of Swaziland's one million people, who are facing acute food shortages. So far, only $3.1 million has been forthcoming, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

"The low funding of the appeal is extremely worrying. The food reserves that people have been living off of will begin to run out in September, and it is very likely that many households will have eaten the seeds they would have planted in the coming agricultural season, thus prolonging their situation of food insecurity," Kelly David, head the OCHA Southern African regional office, told IRIN.

"Without assistance, there is no question that people will be facing serious food shortages in the coming month [September]."

To date, funding for relief aid by the World Food Programme has received roughly $1.6 million; the promotion of self-feeding schemes like backyard and community gardens, just over $1.5 million.

Are donors drained by drought?

"Swaziland has experienced chronic drought for at least 15 years," said Chinwe Dike, Resident Representative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), explaining why some donors have been less than prompt with funding.

"An important issue arising from this is that the challenge of drought has always been addressed as an emergency, and no long-term or development approaches have been adopted in addressing chronic drought," she commented.

David agreed: "I think donors want to see more clarity on how governments and their partners plan to address the underlying structural problems related to drought. Both donors and responders are fully aware that a once-off humanitarian response will protect lives and help some recover their livelihoods in the immediate term, but is not going to change the long-term situation of the affected population."

But the lack of rain this year has been described as the worst in living memory. "The drought in 2007 has become an emergency and has been declared as a national disaster because, unlike in the past, the Highveld, which is normally considered the breadbasket of the country, was also affected," Dike told IRIN.

The fires that raged through the country in early August had added to the mountain kingdom's woes, she said. "These events were also declared a disaster by the government because of the devastating impact on the forestry industry, and the loss of homes, livestock and livelihoods."

An underestimated bad situation made worse

The drought and the fires have compounded the vulnerability of people already struggling to get by. Despite being classified as a middle-income country, the government estimates that two-thirds of the population earn less than a dollar a day.

This classification, some observers feel, takes Swaziland out of the donor spotlight. The UN appealed for $18.9 million to feed more than 500,000 drought-affected rural people in impoverished neighbouring Lesotho, and has already received 60 percent of the funding.

"That represents cash already in hand or in the pipeline. By comparison, the Swaziland appeal is only 17 percent funded, and the vast majority of that money was provided through a central fund for humanitarian assistance managed by OCHA, rather than by individual donors responding to the appeal," Kelly said.

As Dike pointed out, "It is important to note that although Swaziland is classified as a middle income country, most of its human development indicators are those of a LDC [least developed country]." Wealth is highly skewed and poverty in the rural areas is widespread.

At 0.609, Swaziland has one of the highest Gini Coefficients in the world, according to the UNDP. The Gini coefficient uses a measurement between 0 and 1 to determine income distribution - the closer to 1, the more unequal a society; the closer to 0, the more equal a society.

"These disasters have taken place within the context of a country ravaged by HIV/AIDS. Swaziland has the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate globally: the most recent population base prevalence rate is 26 percent of the entire population," Dike said.

"The stresses and strains of these events manifest in increased incidences of gender-based violence, crime and increased child abandonment and child abuse."

Source: IRIN