Coronavirus worsens already dire food insecurity in Eswatini

WFP cash assistance protects people and businesses during COVID-19 pandemic

Thulani Maziya aged 38 lives in the Lubombo region of Eswatini. Being the main breadwinner for five children and a stay-at-home wife while living with HIV is a daily struggle. The country’s recurrent droughts — which have affected thousands of people over the years — have not spared him. As a seasonal employee in the sugar cane fields, he and his family can be left with no source of income for longer periods of time.

Thulani receives a WFP cash tranfer from one of the MTN moblile money points. Photo: WFP/Samuel Dlamini

Funding from the Government of Germany, the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations and other donors means the World Food Programme (WFP) has been able to reach 75,000 vulnerable and hungry people in the Hhohho and Lubombo regions of Eswatini with cash tranfers, from November 2019 through to April 2020. Thulani is one of them.

“When I started being sick in early 2019, I lost my job,” he says. “I was not aware that I was HIV positive. However, as I started to lose more and more weight, I went to the local clinic.” Due to the financial challenges the family was facing, the children were registered at the local WFP-supported Neighbourhood Care Point, where they received a nutritious meal daily.

Thulani vividly remembers the day he was registered for cash support. At first, he thought it was not possible — he had never heard or participated in any programme where people were given money to buy food.

Cash transfers allow beneficiary to cover food and other necessities — in this case, school shoes for the children. Photo: WFP/Sandile Thwala

The transfers can be used at any retailers and may be exchanged for food and other items such as soap and sanitary products. WFP provides monthly cash transfers of SZL120 (US$7.95) per person (SZL600.00, or US$ 39.75 for an average family of five). This much-needed relief allows people to meet their minimum food requirements while at the same time building their resilience to ongoing drought.

“There was great joy in our family when we received our first entitlement in December 2019,” said Thulani. “I purchased fresh vegetables, oil, salt and clothes for the children.”

WFP regularly visits the Maziya family. They are far healthier than six months ago. There is food in the home and Thulani has started a project raising chickens, which he sells to his clients in the sugar-cane plantations. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected his thriving little business, with lockdown restricting people’s movement.

Because of the pandemic, UNDP and the World Food Programme (WFP) have continued with the cash programme, contributing US$1 million (SZL 19 million) to meet the essential needs of 44, 000 vulnerable people in both rural and urban areas of Eswatini for three months. This assistance also allows for the provision of recovery packages for 4,250 urban informal traders to innovate and/or re-establish their enterprises.

An estimated 301,700 people (27 percent of the population) are at risk of food insecurity. A total of 290,300 people (34 percent) are estimated to be in rural areas while 11,425 (4 percent) are in urban areas.

As part of the UN-wide global response, WFP and UNDP are supporting countries in tackling COVID-19, through preparedness, and in response and recovery, focusing on the most vulnerable populations.

A livelihood activity, making grass mats. Photo: WFP / Sandile Thwala

In Eswatini, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on fragile safety nets in vulnerable communities, as measures taken to prevent the spread of infection — such as travel restrictions and closures of markets and schools — have aggravated existing and underlying socioeconomic development challenges.

“Food insecurity will contribute towards an increased risk of malnutrition in children, particularly orphans, as well as people living with HIV and AIDS, and pregnant and breastfeeding women, causing a vicious cycle of hunger for future populations,“ said WFP’s Eswatini Country Director Cissy Byenkya. “Globally, over the past decade, WFP has been using cash transfers to provide assistance to people in need. With this experience, WFP will be delivering the most appropriate response to the fast-changing needs in Eswatini during COVID-19 pandemic.”

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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