SWAZILAND: Water rationing arrives

Friday, September 14, 2007

Swazis have become acquainted with the term "water rationing" as they struggle to cope with one of the longest dry periods in memory.

"Water levels are down nationwide," said Jameson Mkhonta, public relations officer for the Swaziland Water Services Corporation, the parastatal water utility. "The drought ... [has affected the entire country], and not just in the south and east where it is usually dry."

The utility has announced water-rationing regimens for the capital, Mbabane, the commercial hub, Manzini, the Matsapha Industrial Estate, and Ezulwini, the centre of Swaziland's luxury hotel industry. Manzini and Ezulwini recently went without water for two days.

About 40 percent of Swaziland's one million people are facing acute food and water shortages, according to UN agencies. Most of the water cuts are unannounced, but when they last for several days the government trucks in water to the affected communities.

In the northern Hhohho Region, where rainfall has usually been adequate, the Maguga Dam, the country's largest reservoir, is down to 37 percent of its capacity. The low water level in the dam, a joint venture with South Africa on the Komati River in northwestern Swaziland, has stalled construction on a power generation plant. The water level in the Lupholo Dam, which supplies Manzini, has dropped to 31 percent.

Substantial, reservoir-filling rain has not fallen since April. "One of the driest summers on record has been followed by one of the driest winters we have known," said Mkhonta.

Water rationing is already in place in some rural communities, where taps run dry for days at a time, and rural and urban residents take shortcuts to their homes and workplaces across now dry streambeds.

Climate change

River levels have dropped nationwide. As the once submerged stonework of reservoirs is exposed to sunlight for the first time in years, Swazis wonder if the water crisis could develop into a long-term situation.

There are signs of that already happening, according to Ben Nsibandze, Chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority. "This climate change we hear about all over the world, it is affecting us here," he said.

"There was a time when rains fell in September, and the ploughing would begin. Now it is October or November when we see the rains, and the weather service's long-term projections are not hopeful this year." Nsibandze called for a more vigilant early warning system to detect impending problems, and a national disaster preparedness plan.

Nkosinati Ngwenya, an environmental consultant specialising in water resources, agreed. "The razor's edge on which this country has existed in terms of natural resources has been exposed," he said.

"This can either be a wake-up call that we need to adjust to global warming changes in the Swaziland climate, or at least we can fix a lack of policy to handle water and power supplies."

The rapidly shrinking water sources have undoubtedly aggravated the plight of the food insecure. "You wonder what people are doing with the maizemeal they receive as food aid when there is no water for cooking?" asked Dolores Made, a humanitarian relief worker in Manzini.

The government said it had purchased two million litres of water from the Maguga Dam to go to communities whose water runs out, but this is projected to last no longer than two months.

Families have resorted to drinking water from small local dams, streams and rivers and even, in some cases, sharing dwindling water supplies with livestock, sparking fears that waterborne diseases, which have already occurred, could spread.

Hlatikhulu Government hospital, in the rural Shiselweni Region in the south of the country, this week reported a substantial increase in cases of cholera, an acute intestinal infection caused by contaminated water or food.

Source: IRIN