Emergency relief distributions have begun in Swaziland in response to drought which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of people not having enough to eat.
On the way to Sithobela in central Swaziland, we came across two dried-up rivers with only thin trickles of water running along their sandy courses. In places, people had dug holes in the river bed to collect some water for themselves or perhaps for their cattle.
“We worked in our fields but didn’t harvest anything”, says Vuyisile Shabangu (40). “The situation is really very bad, we don’t know what we’re going to eat from one day to the next.”
On a piece of open ground near the road, a few hundred people had gathered for a distribution of rations – maize, yellow peas and vegetable oil - from the World Food Programme. The supplies were being handed out by WFP partners, Save the Children, then measured out and divided up according to household size. Most of those who had gathered there were women, who went about their tasks with efficiency and good humour.
WFP has launched its relief operation in response to the worst food security crisis in the region in more than two decades. It has been caused by two consecutive years of drought, most recently as a result of the El Niño weather event which meant reduced rains during the growing season.
Swaziland is one of five countries in the region that has declared a state of disaster and appealed for international assistance. Because the drought is so widespread, casual work in neighbouring South Africa has also dried up and incomes have fallen. Also causing hardship is a rise in prices – maize now costs more than twice what it did a year ago in the Kingdom.
In Swaziland alone, some 350,000 people are in need of urgent food assistance – that’s nearly a third of the population.
“It’s been very difficult”, explains Vuyisile. “Since I was born, this is the worst drought I’ve ever experienced. As parents, we often go to bed hungry so our children can eat. Sometimes if they have some food, the neighbours will give us something to eat.”
For now at least, the people who have gathered here will have some food for themselves and their families. But the harsh fact is that the lean season has come early this year and it will be a long time till the next harvest in April.
To meet the growing needs, WFP is working to scale up its relief operations in support of the government. It will only be able to do so, however, if the necessary funding is secured.