February 19, 2004

State of emergency declared

Swaziland has declared a state of national emergency, formally recognising the humanitarian crisis gripping the country and opening the door to further donor assistance. "On behalf of His Majesty's government, I appeal to the international community to assist and make whatever resources available, in order to respond effectively to the challenges the country is facing," Prime Minister Themba Dlamini announced.

"The deadly combination of HIV/AIDS and poverty has produced a novel situation that has increased the vulnerability of families. The combination of these trends, and severity of the situation, leave no doubt in my mind that the Kingdom of Swaziland is indeed in a desperate scenario, which requires urgent national and international intervention," he continued. The National Disaster Relief Task Force recommended months ago that the government declare a state of emergency.

About a quarter of the population, close to 250.000 people, are in need of food assistance, while UNAIDS has ranked Swaziland alongside Botswana as having the world's highest HIV prevalence rate - about 40 percent of the adult population. The World Food Programme is providing food aid to 150.000 of the most vulnerable people. Announcing the state of emergency, Dlamini stressed that the country's problems were due to natural calamities. The country's banned opposition parties have, however, pointed to government mismanagement, a feudal land distribution system - which also entrenches the power of King Mswati III - and the lack of a comprehensive AIDS policy. (IRIN)

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