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Since April 2002, SOS Children's Villages has run a food programme from the SOS Children's Village Nhlangano which supports around 600 people who have been badly affected by the prevailing droughts … more about our charity work in Swaziland

Helping drought-affected families in Swaziland

Nomtombi carrying a heavy water container
Nomtombi carrying a heavy water container

5am is a time alien to most 17-year-olds. But not Nomtombi Malinga. By 5am every morning she has walked up the hill just outside the Maseyisini community where she lives in southern Swaziland to collect water for the day. She has been doing this for two months now.

Nomtombi and her family used to get their water from the pump in their village, but the intense drought affecting Swaziland means that the pump now only produces a spluttering, muddy mess. “The drought has made life very difficult for me,” says Nomtombi. “There is no rain here, no food either. We are hungry every day.” 

The devastating impact of El Nino

The drought has been caused in large part by El Nino – a natural phenomenon that happens periodically and causes the Pacific Ocean’s waters to warm which in turn affects the jet streams that impact much of our weather. This El Nino event has been one of the most intense of recent times and has caused severe droughts and cyclonic floods across the world. Countries in southern and eastern Africa have seen their rains fail for two years in a row and communities in South America have been subjected to the worst flooding in 50 years.

In Swaziland, where more than 60% of the population live below the poverty line and the majority of the rural population are subsistence farmers, the effect of the drought has been devastating. Some 300,000 people have been left without enough food or water to survive.

Lives turned upside down by drought

Back in Maseyisi, Nomtombi shows us around her village. “You see the river,” she says, pointing to a spot somewhere in the distance. “Even that is almost dry because it does not rain. Soon it will also be dried up.”

Nomtombi with her grandmother and sister
“The drought has made life very difficult for me. There is no rain here, no food either. We are hungry every day.”

Nomtombi is one of eleven children living with their elderly grandmother. Her brothers and sisters have already left for school and her grandmother is too old to fetch water and carry it up the hill. And so it falls to Nomtombi to fetch water twice a day. She no longer goes to school.

“It is dangerous to fetch water in the dark,” she explains. “There can be snakes and thieves and my grandmother worries that I will be raped - I have to be very careful.”

The water Nomtombi collects is far from clean and trudging up the hill day-in-day-out for water that is not fit for drinking is disheartening. “Sometimes there are dead animals in the water and it stinks,” says Nomtombi as she wipes away droplets of water running down her face from the bucket she is carrying on her head. “The bucket is also too little for all of us to have enough water for cooking, bathing, cleaning and keeping the crops alive. I can’t carry anymore though."

Today, the water she collected looks cleaner – this is a relief. “I know you are thirsty,” says her grandmother. “But I can use this water to cook the porridge.” Nomtombi nods, she knows that clean water is far too precious to argue.

How we’re helping

The SOS family strengthening programme team in the Nhlangano area where the Maseyisi community live has been monitoring the deteriorating situation of families like Nomtombi’s since the drought began in earnest in late 2014.

Nomtombi helping her sister
Nomtombi helps her youngest sister, four-year-old Siya, pour water carefully so that none is wasted

Early in 2015 we started providing monthly allowances to families with children to help support them through the drought. Things are looking up as El Nino passes its peak and some rain has fallen, but the family strengthening team remain cautious. “We are still watching families, including Nomtombi’s closely, and we are ready to provide food parcels if we need to,” says Zinhle Mavuso, a member of the family strengthening programme team.

We are also supporting families affected by the drought by assisting them in the planting of sweet potato, a tougher crop than the maize which is normally favoured. We are committed to improving the long-term resilience of communities to droughts, famines and events like El Nino.

The drought is also affecting the community we work with in Siteki in eastern Swaziland. There we have installed three ten-thousand litre tanks for water harvesting. The tanks are connected to pipes on the gutters of houses around the village and have been a real life-line for the families in the village.

Despite the challenges we are working hard to support families affected by the drought in southern Africa. By making a donation today, you are helping us to find local and practical solutions to help both local and SOS families thrive despite these challenges.