Four children out of ten in Swaziland are so malnourished that their growth has been permanently stunted.
The children are also damaged socially and mentally. Many have problems learning.
Many children are so hungry they collapse at school.
And the Swazi Government has no plans in place to solve the crisis.
There are now fears that once overseas’ food aid to Swaziland is reduced even more children will go hungry and suffer permanent damage.
The Save the Children Fund in Swaziland has issued dire warnings for the future health of children in the kingdom.
In the past year about 600,000 out of Swaziland’s total population of less than one million people have received donor food aid.
The Weekend Observer (5 July 2008) reported that many children, especially in the Lowveld area of the kingdom, that has suffered severe drought for many years, were seldom fed at home.
Only school feeding schemes are keeping them alive.
Save The Children Executive Director Dumisani Mnisi told the Weekend Observer that schoolteachers were concerned about the suffering of these children.
‘They complain that the children collapse because they have nothing to eat both at home and school,’ the Weekend Observer reported him saying.
He said Swaziland had not produced enough food to feed its population for the past five years.
Mnisi said that there were a growing number of families in Swaziland that were headed by children. Often, these households had no income coming in. This made children vulnerable to ‘being abused and exploited in exchange for food’.
Often, children left rural areas to go to towns and cities ‘and create another social challenge for the country,’ Mnisi said.
The Weekend Observer reported that Mnisi challenged the three-month stoppage of food distribution by the Disaster Management Agency. It is expected that people can grow their own food, but in the Lowveld ‘even backyard gardens are impossible’.
Mnisi criticised the Swazi Government for not having plans in place to deal with the food crisis even though the World Health Organisation said plans should be implemented within countries when the figure on stunted children reached 35 percent.
The Weekend Observer reported that recently the World Food Programme’s Country Director Abdoulaye Balde had noted that the food shortage in Swaziland could no longer be seen as a short-term crisis caused by drought. Instead, it was now a chronic problem that needed to be investigated. The problem was made worse by the chronic poverty in Swaziland where about 70 percent of the population earn less than one US Dollar a day.
People in Swaziland are so poor that many have no means to work their fields.
Mnisi said the government should encourage people to diversify the crops they grow and move away from a dependency on growing maize and instead try drought resistant crops.
Mnisi said, ‘Looking at the situation on the ground, one would realise that the situation is likely to get completely out of hand because of the growing number of children who struggle to find something to eat.’