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Swazi children face extreme hunger this winter

Tens of thousands of children in Swaziland will go hungry this year because of a drought and a lack of funding for food aid.

The last time Reuben Mamimeba, 74, was given food rations at Macetjeni, just outside the central Swaziland market town, Manzini was nearly a year ago

Mamba lives with his wife, Agnes, their daughter and six orphaned grandchildren. They struggle to make ends meet on nothing more than the couple’s equivalent of a pension.

"We used to receive food aid from World Vision but nobody from the organisation has come back to tell us why they are not giving us food anymore," Agnes told Inter Press Service news wire. 

World Vision has not been handing out food rations in the southern African country for the past few months. The organisation had been distributing aid on behalf of the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP), which has suspended its programme of food aid. "We’re waiting for the government to give us food parcels which we will only distribute to vulnerable groups such as the chronically ill," said World Vision’s Fikri Gebeyehu.

From today (Monday) the World Food Programme will start helping 19,000 people under its new Food by Prescription Programme aimed at people having treatment for TB or anti-retroviral therapy. It will also give food aid to 12,000 orphans and vulnerable children at soup kitchens each day, and 16,000 youth and students under a food-for-training programme.

But that still leave tens of thousands of people, including children and women, to go hungry this winter. For instance in Mamba’s home, Agnes's daughter, Thembani will be the only person to qualify for World Food Programme food aid because she is on anti-retroviral therapy.

The World Food Programme says it has been having serious money problems over the past three years, which it puts down to the global economic crisis.

"This hit especially hard on WFP because we rely entirely on donor funding for our operations," said the World Food Programme’s Karla Hershey.

But Swaziland is not the only country where World Food Programme operations have been cut and the uncertainty of food prices in the world is complicating the situation. "If prices go up we simply can’t buy as much food as we had hoped."

The cash shortfall affecting World Food Programme support for food aid in Swaziland comes as the country faces a severe economic crisis. Swaziland’s government is under huge economic pressure − there are fears it won’t be able to pay the wage bill for civil servants after December − as it seeks to ensure food assistance for those at risk.

Hayley attribution