Swaziland declares national emergency as El Niño drought intensifies

11 March 2016

UNFAO/TAMIRU LEGESSE

Tackling El Niño: a United Nations irrigation project in Afar Region, Addis Ababa

Tackling El Niño: a United Nations irrigation project in Afar Region, Addis Ababa

THE government of Swaziland, in Southern Africa, has declared a national emergency because of drought.

The Prime Minister, Dr B. Sibusiso Dlamini, said last week that the drought, which began in 2014, had had “devastating consequences” on the land-locked nation. The situation had “deepened in severity, with a path that has defied regional weather forecasting”, he said.

The disruption is attributed to El Niño, an extreme weather pattern that affects global temperatures and ocean currents, estimated to occur every three to six years.

The UK humanitarian director of Oxfam, Jane Cocking, warned last month that this “super El Niño” would have a “major impact” on millions of people, and would be at its most intense from February to April (News, 8 January).

In Ethiopia, El Niño events have forced the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to call for immediate agricultural assistance in the region to the sum of £9.1 billion by the end of March. Humanitarian needs in the country are reported to have tripled since January last year, as the drought has led to successive crop failures and the widespread death of livestock.

In Swaziland, water shortages have destroyed crops and livestock, causing food prices to soar. It is estimated that ten per cent of the “normal” harvest required to feed the country will be gathered in April.

The Anglican mission agency Us. said that the UN food agency was “already feeding” more than 200,000 Swazis as part of its emergency operation in southern Africa. Funds for World Food Programme operations in the country had been “difficult to raise”, however, owing to negative publicity about the King of Swaziland, Mswati III, who had been criticised for his lavish lifestyle.

The US. said that the diocese of Swaziland was providing emergency water, water tanks, and bore holes, but “does not have the necessary resources” to meet the demands.

The agency is working with the Bishop of Swaziland, the Rt Revd Ellinah Wamukoya, and her diocesan team. It is being supported by Church of Ireland parishes as part of the Bishops’ Appeal to raise funds for the World Aid and Development Programme in Swaziland.

Swaziland is also experiencing an HIV and AIDS crisis: an equally “desperate scenario” that required “urgent national and international intervention”, Mr Dlamini said. UN figures suggest that almost 40 per cent of the Swazi population is now infected with HIV.

A National Disaster Management Agency has been established by the government, and a “battle plan” has been drawn up to deal with both issues.

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