SWAZILAND: Govt looks at ways to bring water to people

Friday, March 23, 2007
As Swaziland battles with yet another rainless year, the government has launched an initiative to find long-term solutions to end the water crisis.

An Emergency Water Crisis Committee was formed on Wednesday, when government leaders and water-resource experts convened in the commercial town of Manzini, 35km southeast of the capital, Mbabane, to confront water-scarcity issues.

The Ministry of Natural Resources warned the meeting of diminishing stream flows, lower water levels in all dams, and an expected fall in groundwater levels if the dry spell persisted. In the last few months, Swaziland has suffered delayed rainfall, heavy winds and hailstorms, followed by scorching dry spells, which have all contributed to the worst food shortage in 25 years.

Some urban areas have been rationing water, but the natural resources ministry complained that the short-term solution of supplying town residents with water trucks was expensive. The Swaziland Water Services Board has 27,000 industrial and household customers in urban areas, but the country's urban population is ten times that number, indicating that populous informal settlements without access to piped water must be struggling to obtain water from attenuated streams and other sources.

Christopher Fakudze, an economist seconded to the Ministry of Natural Resources to project water needs and the costs of water-resource management, told IRIN, "Fifty-four percent of Swazis have access to clean water; ten years ago it was 33 percent. It is a rise, but not as anticipated originally. We should be at 61 percent now, according to our projections."

Fakudze cited lack of rainfall as the immediate cause of Swaziland's water shortage. "Even the water tables, the aquifers, are affected according to our engineers. People drill, but in a number of cases there are dry wells."

According to Deputy Prime Minister Constance Simelane, "The country is small enough so we should be able to pipe water everywhere."

Swaziland does have a water supply crisis, but in some places it's a matter of lack of delivery", said Jameson Mkhonta, public affairs officer at the Swaziland Water Services Board and vice chairman of the Water Crisis Committee.

Reliance on gravity to bring water from the mountainous north, where rainfall is usually adequate, to the parched lowland in the south is the centerpiece of a nationwide water delivery grid discussed on Wednesday, which also highlighted a need for additional reservoirs in the north and south.

The natural resources ministry plans to exploit water from the Komati River flowing through the Hhohho Region in the north of the country, as well as water from the Maguga Dam, which is shared with South Africa, by piping irrigation water across more than 80 percent of the country's length to Lavumisa in the south.

"Swaziland is geographically a small place, and there is no reason why we cannot pipe water ... to every area. The drought has made water unavailable - hopefully, just temporarily - but the drought has awakened us to the need for action," said Fakudze.

Opinions differ on whether Swaziland could become self-sufficient in this commodity. "We need to find ways to harvest additional water, because we cannot supply all the people from the resources we have, even though it is a small country," Fakudze suggested.

Mkhonta said that once the drought ended and rainfall returned to normal, an opportunity would be at hand to put in place a nationwide water harvesting and storage infrastructure to stabilise supplies.

Various rivers flow across northern Swaziland, "so if we had the money to interconnect these rivers, we could become self-sufficient in water during summer," he commented. "If we just had some means of harvesting the water during the rainy season, then we could achieve water self-sufficiency all year round."


Ninety percent of rural agricultural schemes including farmers' cooperatives and food security initiatives are based on groundwater sources, but drilling is expensive, and pumping equipment is imported from the United States of America, making maintenance difficult.

"We have short-term solutions to the immediate crisis of bringing water to people, but we must look to long-term solutions," Deputy Prime Minister Simelane told IRIN.

The prolonged dry weather has complicated recovery from a humanitarian crisis that includes widespread HIV/AIDS and chronic poverty.

"People living with HIV require clean water. Poverty alleviation plans centered on agricultural projects have been compromised by lack of water. We have the ability to end water scarcity. Once the international community sees we are making efforts toward water security, I am sure they will assist us", said Simelane.

Swaziland's has an agriculturally- based economy, and irrigation takes up 95 percent of the nation's water demand, of which 90 percent is used by sugar cane cultivation, mostly on large commercial plantations.

Communal farmers depend on rainfall to produce most of the country's staple food, maize, and the lack of irrigation on Swazi Nation Land is a major contributor to the ongoing food shortage, according to the Baphalali Red Cross Society, a key distributor of emergency food relief.

Although the Ministry of Natural Resources told the emergency water conference on Wednesday that boreholes alone could not meet the country's water needs, Mkhonta told IRIN, "We haven't exploited groundwater supplies much - we are on the verge of exploring them."
Author: IRIN
Source: IRIN