April 7, 2004

New legislation on disaster management and environment

Two pending pieces of legislation will facilitate disaster management and bring Swaziland in line with a key international environmental protocol. "As the Prime Minister pointed out, we have seen drought, hailstorms, AIDS and flash flooding within the past year, and we must coordinate our local and national security, health and governmental bodies for quick mobilisation when disaster strikes," a spokesperson for the Deputy Prime Minster's Office (DPM) said. A Disaster Management Bill, prepared by the DPM's office, would establish a permanent inter-governmental structure at national and regional levels, linking government ministries with the administrations of the four regions: northern Hhohho, central Manzini, eastern Lubombo and southern Shiselweni. "This will ensure an integrated, coordinated and common approach to disaster management," stated a draft of the bill. The law would also streamline the process for declaring a national disaster. This in turn would make it easier for international donors to provide needed aid in a timely manner, according to the DPM's office. "What is required is rapid response action. A national disaster management bill brings all our agencies together as one mind," Ben Nsibandze, chairman of the National Disaster Relief Task Force, explained.

Eastern and southern Swaziland are prone to drought and facing their third consecutive year of low rainfall. Harvests are down nationwide for a fifth straight year, and the government has declared a national emergency. Prior to the current crisis, the last major disaster struck 20 years ago, when Cyclone Demonia left about a quarter of the population homeless in 1984.

Swaziland's growing industrial capacity has brought new concerns over water and air pollution that are the subject of the Montreal Protocol, which seeks to control ozone-depleting emissions. The Swazi cabinet is to consider ratifying the Montreal Protocol, after environmental officials attended an extraordinary meeting last month of the parties to the Montreal Protocol on "Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer". The protocol commits Swaziland to the phased withdrawal of the use of methyl bromide, a chlorofluorocarbon that damages the earth's protective ozone layer. Once the protocol is ratified, the country will receive technical and financial assistance from the United Nations Environmental Programme to reduce chlorofluorocarbon usage, and find safe replacements. (IRIN)

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