Mbabane On March 17 the King of Eswatini His Majesty King Mswati III, commanded Prime Minister Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini to declare a National Emergency following the persistent spread of Coronavirus across the globe.
The PM told the nation: “Having assessed the magnitude and severity of the outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic the world, I have been commanded to declare a National Emergency in the Kingdom of Eswatini with immediate effect for a period not exceeding two months.”
The PM went on to detail the events which the king called for either cancellation or suspension in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus. Suspended or cancelled events were King’s Birthday, Army Day and Good Friday and Easter Services which were expected to take place on April 10-12, 2020.
Other drastic measures aimed at fighting against the outbreak announced by the premier include the closure of learning institutions (schools and tertiaries), banning of public and private gatherings that will attract 50 or more people – funerals, weddings. Dlamini also announced that persons from high risk countries would be banned from entering the country and advised Emaswati to avoid unnecessary travel to neighbouring countries and abroad.
By the time of making the statement on Tuesday, at least only one person had been confirmed to have the COVID-19 coronavirus, which has gripped the world since its outbreak in China.
The best protection against the virus is frequent and thorough hand washing with soap.
But what does that mean for the over one million of Emaswati who do not have access to a regular supply of clean water or access to hygienic sanitation?
When making the statement, the prime minister did not specifically mention what interventions government will put in place to provide water in rural communities which doesn’t have access to clean water. But, at the start government through the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) supplied rural areas with water tanks.
Think of the implications for those many people with compromised immune systems or medical conditions such as diabetes and heart problems.
Official statistics show that the population of Eswatini stands at 1.34 million.
According to a study conducted by the World Bank in 2019 titled ‘Eswatini Water Access Project’, of the 1.34 million population, 78 percent (1 045 200) Emaswati stay in rural areas.
Sources of water vary in rural areas, with tap water making up 44 percent of rural supply, groundwater 31.5 percent and surface water up to 21 percent.
Countrywide, for most households (62 percent), an adult female usually collects drinking water when the source is not on premises, usually the case in about 50 percent of the rural households in Eswatini.
Alarmingly, the World Bank study unearthed that, of these 1 045 200 people living in rural areas, only 261 300 (25 per cent) have hand washing facilities. Based on these statistics, it means 783 900 could be at high risk of contracting the Coronavirus should government not border to provide those in this predicament with clean water.
Against this stark fact, Director of Health Dr Vusi Magagula told Independent News that government cannot afford to provide water to affected rural communities because they do not have the capacity to do so. “As a ministry of health, there is nothing we can do as of now due to our limited capacity,” Magagula said.
Reacting to the government stance, Human Rights Commission Commissioner Sabelo Masuku started by thanking government for showing direction on how the country would fight the pandemic. However, he expressed his disappointment about the position of government regarding the provision of clean water to communities that doesn’t have access. “We cannot expect everything from government but the issue of access to clean water is very crucial in fighting against the spread of the disease hence we expect government to put in place interventions in this regard. There are development partners that might come to our rescue, therefore we expect something to be done to ensure the rural communities are not at high risk,” Masuku said.
Poor sustainability of Eswatini’s rural water services has been attributed to operational causes, such as: poor facility design and lack of construction oversight, partly due to a poorly resourced support agency; low levels of tariff payment; ineffective voluntary (community) management of complex reticulated systems; and an absence of an information system to provide systematically organized baseline data about rural water facilities/services. In addition, the balance in budgetary allocation from the Ministry of Finance has placed greater emphasis on new scheme construction, rather than rehabilitation.
Numerous institutional and policy causes of poor sustainability for the rural water sector also exist. The lack of a finalized National Water Policy exacerbates the issues, causes uncertainty and a lack of legality for its contents to be applied. The existing draft policy does not provide specific guidance on key issues of alternative management models, the constitution and nature of water service providers and asset ownership. Whilst implementation and technical guidance, standards and documents exist at DWA, they are not formalized (or in some cases finalized) and so cannot be enforced on NGOs or other entities working in the sector. They are also not widely known about or recognized by other stakeholders. The lack of an asset database or management plan means there is nothing to inform strategic planning or to prioritize and plan capital and maintenance requirements.