Despite its classification as a lower-middle-income nation, 63 percent of the Kingdom of Swaziland’s population still lives below the poverty line. The Swaziland poverty rate is attributed to multiple factors. These factors include stalled economic growth, severe drought, unequal distribution of wealth, high unemployment and a high rate of HIV/AIDS.
According to the African Economic Outlook, economic growth in Swaziland dropped to -0.6 percent in 2016 due to a severe drought during the 2015-16 agricultural season that caused significant declines in the country’s agricultural sector. As nearly 77 percent of Swazis rely on subsistence farming for their livelihoods, Swaziland was one of the southern African nations hit hardest by the drought.
The economic growth rate is projected to rise to 1.4 percent in 2017 as improving weather conditions also improve agricultural production. It will most likely take until 2018, though, to regain and potentially surpass 2015’s growth rate of 1.7 percent.
In 2015, Swaziland was ranked 150 out of 188 countries in the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI which ranks countries based on life expectancy, education and per capita income indicators. Between 2011 and 2015, the country’s HDI value did not change. Researchers attribute this lack of progress to unmet Millennium Development Goals in areas such as poverty and health care.
In an effort to combat the high Swaziland poverty rate, the Swazi government has undertaken various initiatives aimed at promoting indigenous Swazi entrepreneurship and decreasing youth unemployment rates. According to the 2013-14 Integrated Labour Force Survey, people between the ages of 22 and 35 owned only 33 percent of the country’s small businesses.
The Swazi government is currently working on including more young people in the country’s growing small business sector by including entrepreneurship training in schools and supporting programs that give young people hands-on experience in a small business work environment. Additionally, the nation is planning to revitalize the Youth Enterprise Revolving Fund Initiative.
There are also several organizations working on the ground in Swaziland to help those living in poverty. In 2017, the World Food Programme (WFP) has collaborated with the Swazi government to improve the food consumption of households affected by the drought by providing approximately 250,000 people with food distributions and cash transfers through the use of mobile money.
The organization is also working to combat the malnutrition caused by the drought and the high poverty rate. It provides 15,000 people per month with take-home food rations meant specifically to improve their nutritional status. This initiative mainly targets those undergoing treatment for HIV or tuberculosis. Both of these diseases have high incidence rates in Swaziland.
The Thirst Project is another organization that is working to alleviate the burdens that poverty places on 63 percent of Swazis. Its goal is to end the global water crisis by providing sustainable sources of clean water to communities in developing countries.
It is the belief of Alicia Villafana, though, a recipient of the Thirst Project’s Power of Youth Award for her fundraising efforts, that providing communities with clean water will ultimately help downsize the Swaziland poverty rate.
“Now they can grow gardens and vegetables that provide nutrients. Now HIV patients can take their medication without worrying about catching a disease from the water that might kill them,” states Villafana. “Kids don’t have to spend time going to fetch water. Now they can go to school and get an education.”
With the efforts of the Swazi government, supplemented by aid from humanitarian organizations, the WFP believes that those affected by the Swaziland poverty rate may soon lead healthier, more secure lives.
– Amanda Lauren Quinn