The government of Swaziland has declared a national emergency as the land-locked southern African nation continues to suffer the effects of a devastating drought.
The Prime Minister, Dr B Sibusio Dlamini, said that the draught, which began in 2014 as a result of the El Nino weather event, has "deepened in severity, with a path that has defied regional weather forecasting" and has had "devastating consequences."
He said: "The negative impact of the drought has led to seriously diminished water availability for crop production, human consumption and livestock sustenance. At the present time, we count the loss of around 40,000 head of cattle, and have to report a serious food and water vulnerability currently experienced by approximately 300,000 of our people, which is around 25 per cent of the population."
And he said that the country is also plagued by the "devastating onset of the HIV and Aids crisis" in the country. According to the UN, almost 40 per cent of the Swazi population is now HIV infected. Therefore, the Kingdom is now facing "a desperate scenario, which requires urgent national and international intervention."
A National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) has been established to deal with both issues. On the HIV/Aids front, Dr Dlamini said that the country needed to "adopt the approach of being at war with a national enemy."
An "effective defence and counter-attack . . . battle plan" had been drawn up by a joint government team working with the new NDMA, he said, which would cover the whole country.
"The UN food agency is already feeding more than 200,000 Swazis as part of its large emergency operation in Southern Africa," the Anglican mission agency United Society said. "Given the worldwide negative publicity surrounding luxury spending by King Mswati III, it has however been difficult to raise funds for World Food Programme operations in Swaziland."
In an email to the United Society last week, Mandla Mdlulu, the Development Officer for the Diocese of Swaziland, said: "I will tell you my experience that on 20 January I went to Growmore to quote for 50kg Mealie Meal it was E292.00 [Swazi Lilangeni, approximately £13.32 GBP] and I went back on 10 February to buy it and the new price was E427.00 [approximately £19.48]; it is craziness. Thousands of tons of maize will have to be imported."
The managing director of Luyengo Fresh Produce, Mr Tiekie de Beer, told United Society: "The planting season in Swaziland for commercial and subsistence farmers is in November and December. Hardly anything was planted last year due to the severe drought conditions.
"Whatever was sown later will not survive due to the ongoing scarcity of water and also because we are heading into the winter now. The impact of all this will be felt when harvest time comes in April."
Tiekie expects that only about 10 per cent of the normal requirement will be harvested. "To compound the difficulties, much of Swaziland's income comes from sugar production, but that also has suffered with irrigation now stopped on 30 per cent of the cane fields."
The Diocese of Swaziland is providing emergency water, water tanks and bore holes but "does not have the necessary resources to meet the demands upon it in these extraordinary circumstances," the United Society said.
The agency is working with the Bishop of Swaziland, the Rt Revd Ellinah Wamukoya, and her diocesan team; and are being supported by many Church of Ireland parishes as part of the Anglican Church of Ireland's Bishops' Appeal - the province's World Aid and Development Programme.