Swaziland, 19 March 2012: UN warns fiscal crisis in Swaziland worsens poverty for already vulnerable groups
MBABANE, Swaziland, 19 March 2012 - The United Nations in Swaziland today released a report which indicates that the country’s fiscal crisis has worsened poverty by putting an additional strain on the poorest households, especially families affected by HIV and AIDS and young people. It warned that delayed and some reductions of government spending in the social sector as well as cuts in labour income threatens the country’s progress towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals in health, education and food security.
The assessment, based on a nation-wide survey of 1334 households was carried out in November 2011. It aimed to provide systematic evidence on the impact and responses to the fiscal crisis in Swaziland on people’s lives. The findings of the assessment suggest that one in four households suffered shocks such as rising food prices and loss in labour income and that households adopted severe coping strategies in response to the shocks such as cuts in food consumption with some families skipping meals for an entire day. It was also found that families made changes to modes of transport and have had reduced access to services. The report showed that households with members living with HIV were at greater risks to shocks and relied more on cheaper meals or skipped meals all together.
Swaziland entered the crisis with already major social challenges including the highest HIV rate in the world, high unemployment (29 percent of the labour force in 2010), widespread poverty (63 percent of the population) and food insecurity (29 percent of the population). About 25 percent of the employed are 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 percent. At more than half of the labour force, youth unemployment is alarmingly high and needs to be addressed.
The country’s fiscal crisis, worsened by a dramatic drop in the South African Customs Revenue, and the global economic crisis, has significantly reduced government spending, especially in social sector programmes already 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 school, 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, especially children, are facing increasing hunger and poverty. We hope that the findings will be better inform policy decisions and priority will be given to economic solutions that best serve the majority of Swaziland’s people,” said Dr. 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.
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