September 3, 2004

Premier presents economic growth strategy / Devastating impact of nutrient deficiencies

Prime Minister Themba Dlamini outlined the Swazi government's new economic growth strategy in parliament, and also touched on international concerns over democratic reform. The premier called for a programme to improve environmental management, and said a land policy had been developed and was awaiting approval. According to him, in order to address the ongoing drought-related food shortages, government planed to assist subsistence farmers to purchase seed and fertiliser. Dlamini, however, did not indicate whether this would be through loans or grants. Construction of earth dams for irrigation purposes would be accelerated to benefit peasant farmers on communal Swazi Nation Land, who depend on rainfall for their crops.
Albert Ndwandwe, a member of the banned People's United Democratic Front said that small landholder farmers would only prosper if they were given title deed to their land, but the premier had left that out, so it was not government policy. No Swazi farmer could furthermore get a bank loan without title deed, and any person on Swazi Nation Land, where four out of five Swazis live, can be expelled from his land by his chief, who is a king's appointee, for joining a political party. Dlamini stressed that the government was committed to ending a rule-of-law crisis, in which Swaziland's appeal court magistrates resigned en masse in 2002 when the authorities refused to recognise or implement key court rulings. Banned political organisations have also called for an end to the royal 'Tinkhundla' system of government, where Swazis living under palace-appointed chiefs elect MPs who pass laws prepared by the king's hand-picked cabinet. The prime minister said the system would be strengthened, not abandoned in the name of political reform. "Improving the Tinkhundla system is top of the agenda of his majesty's government," Dlamini said.
In the meantime, it has also been shown that up to 60 percent of Swazi infants are likely to incur brain damage due to vitamin deficiencies, while a wide spectrum of the population are at risk of malnourishment, according to a United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) report. "The price of the current food shortage crisis is being paid by children and others, who are suffering stunted growth and diminished performance at school and on the job," Siddharth Nirupam, UNICEF Swaziland's programme officer for health and nutrition, said. According to him, new programmes were already in place to boost vitamin consumption, but data was not yet available to assess their effectiveness. One such programme is targeted at vitamin A distribution among children under five years - the national prevalence of vitamin A deficiency in children aged under six is 40 percent and causes the deaths of 600 children annually. The UNICEF report also estimates that 4.000 Swazi babies are born each year with intellectual impairment caused by a lack of iodine in the mother's diet during pregnancy. (IRIN)

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