Socio-economic Impacts of the 2015/16 El Nino Induced Drought in Swaziland

The 2015/16 El Niño drought proved to be the worst drought Swaziland has experienced since 1992. In total nominal monetary terms, the drought cost Swaziland minimally E3.843 billion, representing a 7.01% of Swaziland’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2016 or 18.58% of government expenditure in 2016. Despite the significant drought losses, the country has on paper a solid Disaster Risk Management (DRM) Policy (2010). However, even with extensive experience from past droughts in 2009/10, 2007, 2001, and 1992, the country is still struggling to become drought proof. The reason Swaziland is so affected by drought is that the country’s economic backbone rests on agriculture. The inherent vulnerability to drought is that the food production system in the country is still highly dependent on direct rainfall. Due to chronic drought-like conditions in the Shiselweni and Lubombo regions, households in these regions are now discouraged from participating in agriculture. To illustrate, an assessment of agricultural assets in households reveals that household participation in agriculture is less than 30%, with a measly national average of 25.3%. As a result, the country is now too dependent on the international, basically South African, market for its basic food needs. The implication is that as droughts become more frequent, their impact on the country will be detrimental to the economy, particularly on rural livelihoods. The Swaziland Vulnerability Assessment Report (July 2016) indicates that more than half of the population in the country (638,251 people) requires livelihood support, mainly food support due to the drought. Hence, to adequately prepare the country for future droughts, the implementation of the DRM Policy should focus on strengthening water harvesting and storage infrastructure to increase food crop production under irrigation – targeting such investments at the household level.