Malnutrition in Swaziland (eSwatini) is set to rise so that nearly a quarter of the total population will need help getting food, a United Nations' agency reported.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said 300,000 people will be affected. The total population of Swaziland is about 1.3 million.
The FAO said the present coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis would increase the numbers in danger, but before the pandemic an estimated 232,000 people needed help.
In a report just published FAO said, 'According to the latest report of the Vulnerability Assessment Committee (VAC), in 2019, an estimated 232,000 people, about 25 percent of the rural population, were estimated to be food insecure and in need of humanitarian assistance during the October 2019-March 2020 period.
'This figure is almost double the level compared to the previous year, when an estimated 122,000 people faced acute food insecurity. Most of the food insecure population in 2019/20 was concentrated in eastern Lubombo and southern Shiselweni regions, where cereal production shortfalls occurred in 2019.
'Looking further ahead, despite an expected average harvest in 2020 that would stabilize food security conditions in the next months, the risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic could cause an increase in the prevalence of malnutrition.
'The effects of the pandemic are expected to be primarily channeled through a reduction in economic activities and associated income losses, while potential breakdowns in food supply chains is an additional concern for food security across the country. A recent analysis by the Government and humanitarian partners indicated that almost 300,000 people are at risk of acute food security due to the potential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.'
On Wednesday (22 April 2020) the Swazi Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini pledged his government would feed 300,000 people in 63,000 households across all four regions of the kingdom in the next two weeks. He has not publicly stated how he intends to do this. Swaziland is broke and the money to purchase food is not available.
Swaziland has relied on international aid to feed the most vulnerable of the population for many years. The World Food Programme (WFP) is one of the major agencies tackling the problem. In 2019 it tried to raise US$17.4 million from donors but reported it had fallen more than US$9 million short in its fundraising. It collected only 47 percent of the money it hoped to raise.
In a May 2019 report WFP said 'an estimated 22 percent of the population has been food insecure in the past ten years'.
It added, 'Chronic malnutrition is a main concern in eSwatini: stunting affects 26 percent of children under the age of five.'
WFP reported, 'Seventy percent of the rural population live below the national poverty line and 25 percent are extremely poor. Eswatini has a very high HIV prevalence, affecting 26 percent of the population between the ages of 15-49. Life expectancy is 49 years, and 45 percent of children are orphaned or vulnerable.'