3 January 2014

Swaziland: Swazis Give Government Poor Marks in Survey

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"Two out of three Swazis do not get enough to eat. This has been known to government for some time, but government doesn't see this as a systemic problem but something that can be remedied with food aid," said Thabo Nxumalo, an agronomist and agricultural consultant in the Manzini region.

"Food aid is supposed to be a temporary solution to an emergency situation. Government sees food aid as a means to avoid having to put into place policies to put an end to food insecurity," he alleged.

Nxumalo commented that if Swaziland is to overcome its food shortages, in the absence of government willingness to make fundamental changes to the land-use policy, it will be up to international donors to address the problem in the same way that they responded to the HIV/AIDS epidemic by financing improvements to the country's healthcare system.

Donor aid has vastly improved Swaziland's healthcare system, and a majority of the survey respondents said they had benefited from better service at clinics and hospitals.

"It took the AIDS crisis to improve healthcare. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has really boosted the country's health system. The AIDS crisis would be out of control without this assistance," said Valarie Dlamini, a healthcare consultant in Manzini.

The survey revealed that many Swazis also experience frequent water shortages. Nearly a quarter of respondents said they lived without water in their homes - either piped in directly or from a well or borehole on their property - and 29 percent said they seldom have water in their homes, likely because nearby water supplies have dried up.

"That half of Swazis do not have adequate water is surprising because Swaziland's climate is quite rainy most of the year, and the country is crossed by large and small rivers that flow all year round. This is a matter of service delivery. Government is not providing irrigation and water storage facilities," said Amos Ndwandwe, who works with the Ministry of Natural Resources to drill boreholes in rural areas.

Two-thirds of respondents said it was "very difficult" to get water and electricity connected to their homes. But those who had these services said paying for them was also a pressing problem.

Nearly half of those surveyed said their families had gone without an income on one occasion over the past 12 months, and 38 percent said they had gone without an income several times during the past year.

Fifty-six percent of respondents described economic conditions in the country as "very bad", and half considered their own economic situation as "very bad."

Dlamini expressed surprise that this percentage was not higher, considering that two-thirds of Swazis are estimated to live in chronic poverty, existing on less than US$2 per day. "However, the survey was of people's perceptions, and many Swazis are used to the way they have to live," she said.

"In terms of lifestyles, it isn't much different from the way they grew up and their ancestors lived - mud huts without water and sanitation, food security dependant on the rains, and little by way of government services."

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. ]

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