—Nqobile was feeding a collapsed and emaciated cow by hand one morning. A week later the cow died—one of 24 cows she owns that has died since November.
“When the grass dried up my cows began to eat anything they could find, even plastic…and they started to die,” said the 54-year-old grandmother.” Each cow is worth about $330, equating to a loss of nearly $8,000. “I am in a difficult situation because I do not have the funds to replace the cows.”
Like many people in Siteki, Nqobile is struggling to cope with the effects of a severe drought that has affected nearly 50 million people in the region. In Swaziland, the government declared a state of emergency on Feb. 18. Out of the 1.2 million people in the country, more than 300,000 of them don’t have enough food or water.
Nqobile stands in front of her kraal, where she used to keep 26 cows. 24 of them have died since November because of the drought.
“Siteki is drier than the rest of Swaziland, but these past few months have been traumatizing,” said Phindile Luthuli, the SOS program director in Siteki. “I don’t know how people will cope in a month or two. Weather experts in Swaziland tell us this will persist until 2018.”
Even the SOS families in Siteki are affected. In February, the government was forced to shut off water to the SOS families’ waterhole.
In response, the SOS program directors in Swaziland purchased three, 10,000-liter water tanks for the 12 SOS families in Siteki. The tanks connect to pipes that bring the water inside the SOS families’ homes.
“We have not even completed the installation and SOS Mothers are already worried that the three will not be enough,” Phindile said.
When the water stopped flowing to the SOS waterhole, it wasn’t just the SOS families who were affected—so too was the community. That’s because the SOS waterhole was providing water for a community food garden, which was set up to support grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren by themselves.
Nqobile is one of the grandmothers. Thandi Sifundza, 60, is also a participant in the “granny food garden,” but unlike Nqobile, she still has grandchildren under her care—eight of them. Thandi’s water tap at home was shut off when she couldn’t afford to pay her water bill. SOS program directors have asked the local authorities for her water bill so that they can pay it. But even so, the water will be rationed and insufficient for her daily use.
Thandi and one of her grandchildren in front of their water tap, which was shut off recently because she can't afford to pay her water bill. Photo credit: Max Bastard.
Other SOS programs in Swaziland also rely on SOS Siteki. Some of their food comes from the farmland managed by SOS Siteki; however, none of the land is being cultivated due to the drought. In January, 250 of the 660 chickens owned by SOS died because of the heat.
“Since December, we have lost our chickens and our gardens,” Khabo Mthethwa, family strengthening coordinator for SOS Siteki.