The Government of Swaziland declared a national drought disaster on 18 February 2016 in response to extended El Nino-induced drought conditions dating back to 2014. According to the National Meteorology Department, Swaziland received below normal rainfall from Oct 2014 to Feb 2016. This led to low water levels in dams, poor replenishment of ground water sources, and poor pastures and vegetation cover, low agricultural yields which resulted in half of Swaziland’s population requiring food aid. Maize production was down 31 per cent in 2015 and expected to be lower in 2016. More than one third of the population needed food by May 2016. In disaster situations, children are always the most vulnerable to the effects of malnutrition and disease.
Most Swazis are subsistence farmers and depend on government tractors to plough their fields. In the absence of machines, farmers resorted to traditional methods of hand-ploughing with hoes or oxen. The reduction of cattle herds by the drought lessened the availability of healthy oxen for the work.
Livestock are important assets of the population not only in terms of social status and livelihoods but also for nutrition, their death was a source of concern and the number could not be ascertained because farmers reported that some died in the pastures without being noticed and reported to veterinary officers. More cattle died as the drought was persistent. The situation repeated itself for two years due to extreme climate change and was being worsened by the heat-wave. The close proximity to water in livestock deaths also carries and increasing potential for the spread of diseases.
Some farmers suggested that they be allowed to graze their cattle in some of the government farms. However, the government farms had not been spared from the drought. The effects of the dying animals due to the drought were also felt by the country’s biggest beef producer and exporter – the Swaziland Meat Industries (SMI). This in turn affected the economic situation of the country.
Ninety per cent of Swaziland’s sugar cash crop relies on irrigation, which was significantly hampered by the rationing of water. Sugarcane harvests, which accounts for a staggering 21 per cent of Swaziland’s GDP, was hit hard, spelling trouble for government finances and possible service delivery. It further had significant impact on its stuff resulting in retrenchments. These adverse drought conditions made families vulnerable as most of the people who lost jobs were bread winners for their families.
Nearly one-third of the rural population experienced a high expenditure on food, thus had little capacity to cope with the combined effects of production shortfalls and increased market prices, and quickly fell further into food insecurity. Swaziland saw an increase in food insecurity with many households unable to eat three meals a day. The number of food insecure households rose during the drought period and resulted in increased acute malnutrition rates.
The drought did not only affect crops and animals, but human beings as well. The dams and rivers supplying the urban areas especially Mbabane was so low the city started water rationing for the first time in its history. River flows were very low in all five major rivers – below critical environmental sustenance levels. The situation is worse than during the great 1992 drought. Government stated thinking of various initiatives to provide its people with enough water, such as drilling boreholes and water trucking.
The reduction of water impacted the education of children especially in urban schools which depend on the flushing toilet systems; but even in the rural areas, existing boreholes ran dry. The most affected urban area was Mbabane the capital city of Swaziland putting all at risk of water borne diseases, due to the water, sanitation/hygiene conditions.
The country has one of the highest prevalence of HIV-infected adults (26 per cent of people aged 15-49). Food insecurity in the country affected anti-retroviral (ARV) intake as ARVs are meant to be taken with food and water. It also affected access to medical facilities as some people were unable to make the journey to the facilities due to illness, weakness or lack of finances (Report from UN Country Team in Swaziland, published on 25 February, 2016)
Highlights of the Drought
The Response of the Church on the Drought
Before I talk about our response, let me share my personal experiences as I went around the Diocese doing ministry. Lomahasha a parish in the East sharing a border with Mozambique the people’s concern was that they were hungry and had to make the bishop know. Why still reflecting on what I was going to do, I went to another parish in the South, one of the driest parts of the country, it was the same story, and the people reported to me that they were hungry. I had to respond and quickly I scrounged around for funds and together with our companions we put together money and bought maize and beans. Not sustainable by any means, but still it was a response.
As a church I must explain that most of our responses has been done together with our companions from IOWA in the US, Brechin in Scotland and the Church in Ireland.
- Neighbourhood Care Point
The Diocese has over the years through assistance from companion Diocese responded to the nutrition needs of children who are orphaned and vulnerable. The Diocese provides food hampers to be cooked for children in 15 NCPs in Swaziland. In the face of the drought the numbers increased and the amount of food supplies had to increase to meet the increasing demands. We had to ensure that the food was more nutritious (peanut butter in the porridge which was not the norm and we tried to provide breakfast as most of them to school on empty stomachs particularly in the south).simplify –
- Water Harvesting in Schools
As stated earlier that schools especially in Mbabane were affected by water shortage. The Diocese through help from Hope Africa and US Ireland donated tanks and distributed water in four primary schools and one pre-school as an emergency relief and water harvesting solution for future use.
- Food Parcels Distribution
As an emergency response, the church also distributed maize bags and beans to over 100 families in the most affected communities in the Shiselweni and Lubombo regions of the country.
- Gardening/ Perma-culture Gardening
Efforts have been made to educate and implement gardens in parishes to ensure continuous supply of vegetables for sustainable development of the parishes and we shared skills on perma-culture gardening which is a method that conserves water.
- Ground water Harvesting
The Diocese through help of the United thank offering is in a process of drilling boreholes to harvest ground water for two Parishes. In as much as good rainfall are experienced this season in the country; some communities especially the Lubombo and Lowveld regions are still experiencing drought effects thus there need to have long term response.
- Educating our brethren and Advocating for Water sustainable use
In response to the drought where water was one of the affected human needs the diocese took initiative to advocate for water.
- Green Valentine
In February 14th, 2016 the Diocese availed liturgical material to Parishes to focus their prayers and sermon on water. These were meant to educate our people on the importance of water stewardship and repentance to our injustice to water.
- Season of Creation
Following the declaration of September 1-October 4 for the celebration of season of creation by the Orthodox Church, the Diocese availed liturgical (season of Creation 4) materials for our parishes to use. Since water was a serious crisis, the Diocese held an outdoor (under a tree) service in the city of Manzini in a park. The worship was done in conjunction with other Denomination (mainly the Lutheran Church) and the Swaziland Environment Authority who shared (educated) the people of God on the role that the Church can play on water stewardship.
Water was the theme of the day and prayers on water stewardship were.
- Green Anglicans Movement
The Green Anglicans Movement continues to be our main advocating tool for environmental stewardship as a broad subject. Through this movement we educate and implement long term and short term mitigation and adaptation strategies to drought effects and Climate change as the main challenge. We have joined hands with the Lutheran church and equipped its youth on environmental stewardship.
- Sustainability Projects
The diocese has engaged on some sustainability projects to generate income to finance our social responsibility programmes amongst other things, namely;
- We have embarked on a piggery project in one of the parishes to raise funds for social justice programmes.
- We are looking into developing a hostel to augment the accommodation needs of the University of Swaziland Agricultural campus.
- Plans are underway to plant fodder grass as an income generating venture
- In line with the fifth mark of mission of the Anglican Communion; on safe guarding the environment, we are looking into planting a forest on our less developable land killing two birds with one stone preserving the environment and making some money.
- We are also rehabilitating most of our buildings for efficient use of water (piping) and electricity (attending to wiring).
BY + ELLINAH.