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Swaziland: Tackling one crisis at a time does not solve all

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 8 March 2010
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Swaziland: Tackling one crisis at a time does not solve all, 8 March 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b9a1e811e.html [accessed 23 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

MBABANE, 8 March 2010 (IRIN) - The myriad crises afflicting Swaziland can only be solved with a holistic approach, not a piecemeal one, the World Food Programme (WFP) deputy executive director, Sheila Sisulu, said during a recent tour of the country.

Swaziland, a small landlocked country with a population of about one million people, is ruled by King Mswati III - sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch - while contending with the world's highest HIV/AIDS prevalence, food insecurity, poor education systems, extreme poverty and a moribund economy.

Miriam Dlamini, a widowed mother of five living in rural Mliba, about 60km north of Swaziland's second city, Manzini, personifies the plight of many Swazis.

"My husband died of AIDS and left me alone to work the fields, but I am HIV positive. I need food for my children, and for myself so my ARVs work properly, but I cannot do the farm work alone, and I have no money to hire helpers or to pay for seeds and fertilizer and a team of oxen to plough," she told IRIN.

In the largely rural economy, where 70 percent of Swazis survive in a state of chronic poverty, her daily burden - like that of many others - is overwhelming. "I don't know where to begin. I wake up tired and when the day is over, so little has been done, and that makes me more tired," Dlamini said. "I receive [WFP food] packages and ARVs from the clinic, but I must travel to both places with no money for transport."

A change for the better could be on the way. On 3 March 2010, Swaziland became a member of the Common Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) - an initiative by the African Union (AU) and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) to address food security and agricultural production.

At the signing ceremony in the Swazi capital, Mbabane, Sisulu told a round table discussion that the spill-over of one crisis into another compounded the effects of each crisis, and the country would be hard pressed to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGS).

Connected problems  

"Agricultural production, HIV and AIDS, food security and poverty are interconnected and cannot be tackled in isolation of each other. We believe a comprehensive approach is key to achieving the underlying objective of CAADP ... meeting Goal One of the Millennium Development Goals of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger ... at current trends, Swaziland is unlikely to achieve [this] by 2015."

Swaziland is no longer a net exporter of foodstuffs: drought and a population that has tripled since independence from Britain in 1968 have forced people to farm marginal lands, while HIV/AIDS has decimated the agricultural workforce. According to UNAIDS, about 26 percent of Swaziland's sexually active population are infected with HIV.

Membership of CAADP paves the way for the establishment of an Agricultural Development Bank of Swaziland, which could be used to provide loans or grants for subsidising agricultural inputs.

Such an eventuality would necessitate a sea change in relations between the government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which provide vital support in most of the country's social and agricultural spheres.

"Laudable as this show of support is, the question remains whether government can indeed work with NGOs, the private sector and the beneficiaries," said a director - who declined to be identified - of an NGO affiliated to the Congress of Non-Governmental Organisations (CANGO), an umbrella organization for NGOs.

"The [government] ministries have always worked independently - they are territorial. It will be interesting to see if they can work together, and if the voices of the rural farmers will be heard, or whether solutions will be imposed," he told IRIN.

A broad front

UNAIDS Country Coordinator Sophia Monico noted that "All the UN agencies are coordinating our work on AIDS. We're setting an example by forging an alliance between specialties."

She said the UN would adopt a comprehensive approach: food security issues would be handled by WFP, AIDS issues would be handled by UNAIDS, the UN Children's agency (UNICEF) would deal with issues concerning children affected by HIV and AIDS, and poverty reduction issues, under the authority of the UN Development Programme, would be strategically coordinated.

"It's like getting relief supplies to areas hit by disaster - it's not enough to put food on the plane, you have to get the delivery infrastructure working, the beneficiaries' needs sorted out, and rebuild the agriculture sector to make food production sustainable again," said Charles Ndwandwe, a food aid distributor in Mliba.

"That's what must be done in Swaziland," he commented. "It's harder when AIDS complicates things, but this is being factored in."

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