Swaziland crisis - Development under threat - UN
SWAZILAND'S fiscal crisis threatens the country's progress towards reaching its millennium development goals in health, education and food security, the United Nations (UN) said on Friday.
It warned that delays and reduction of government spending in the social sector as well as cuts in labour income had worsened poverty by putting an additional strain on the poorest households, especially young people and families affected by HIV-Aids.
The UN assessment was based on a nationwide survey of 1334 households in November last year.
The report aimed to provide systematic evidence of the effect of Swaziland's fiscal crisis on its people and their response to it.
The findings suggested that one in four households suffered such shocks as rising food prices and a loss in earnings and that households adopted severe coping strategies in response such as cutting back on food consumption.
The report also found that families changed their mode of transport and suffered reduced access to services.
Swaziland entered the crisis with already major social challenges, including the highest HIV rate in the world, high unemployment (29% of the labour force in 2010), widespread poverty (63% of the population) and food insecurity (29% of the population).
About 25% of the employed were working in vulnerable employment, that is either self-employed or working for family businesses. The situation is aggravated by a high rate of youth (ages 15 - 24) unemployment at 52%.
The country's fiscal crisis, worsened by a drop in the South African Customs Union revenue, and the global economic crisis, has reduced government spending, especially in social sector programmes targeting the poorest. In 2011, social grants including the elderly grant, child welfare grant, orphan and vulnerable child education grant, as well as public assistance grant, were suspended or delayed.
By August, only about one third of primary school fees for orphans and vulnerable children, part of the government's commitment to roll out free primary education, had been paid. In the health sector, some maternal health services were interrupted and a national HIV prevention campaign was put on hold due to a lack of funds.
"This assessment comes at a critical time for the country, when the poorest and most vulnerable are facing increasing hunger and poverty. We hope that the findings will better inform policy decisions and priority will be given to economic solutions that best serve the majority of Swaziland's people," said Jama Gulaid, acting UN resident coordinator.
"The UN stands ready to help the government in the selection of innovative solutions and measures that best serve the people of Swaziland."
To mitigate the impact of the fiscal crisis on the poorest people, the report argues for urgent measures to be implemented, including strengthening public sector management to increase transparency and accountability in public budgeting and expenditure, develop an independent private sector, as well as the formulation of a national policy on employment and prioritise youth employment and entrepreneurship.
In addition, the report emphasises the need for strong commitment to social protection schemes, especially to reduce inequalities, mitigate risks and build livelihoods.
These could include development of social protection schemes against livelihood risks, such as public works programmes and improved food security. - I-Net Bridge