SWAZILAND: Heavy Rains Welcome in the Mountain Kingdom

SWADE staff at the Lubovane reservoir -  Mantoe Phakathi/IPS
SWADE staff at the Lubovane reservoir - Mantoe Phakathi/IPS
  • by Mantoe Phakathi (siphofaneni, swaziland)
  • Inter Press Service

For 20 years, residents of Siphofaneni and surrounding areas in the eastern Lowveld area of Swaziland have survived on food rations for want of rain to grow their own crops.

Four months after planting his fields this year, farmer Elias Mamba is excited about the coming harvest from his five-hectare plot.

'I guess these rains will bring to an end our dependency on food aid because we could not harvest anything during the drought,' said Mamba. 'For the first time in the history of this country, we can donate food to other countries.'

Mamba, who is the chairperson of the Mganyaneni Farmers Association, is also beaming from ear to ear because for the first time since its completion in 2008, the Lubovane Dam is spilling over. The dam has reached its full capacity of 160 million cubic metres while water continues to flow in.

'The community went to view the dam and we’re optimistic that there are more opportunities to come from this asset other than just agriculture,' said Mamba.

The reservoir resembles the ocean, the farmer says seriously, something Swazis usually have to travel to neighbouring Mozambique or South Africa to see.

The water level is so high that its operators, the Swaziland Agriculture and Water Development Enterprises (SWADE) have had to send representatives to the households closest to its advancing edge to reassure them.

'They are placed above the probable possible flood line level where water would be in an unlikely event. Careful measures have been taken to ensure that the remaining homesteads around the dam won’t be affected by floods,' said communications manager Gugulethu Hlophe.

'The dam has two spillways which enable the water to flow back to the river once it has reached its full capacity,' said Arthur Belsey, Lower Usuthu Small-holder Irrigation Project (LUSIP) director.

The prolonged drought had led Mamba and many other community members to worry that the Great Usuthu River, which contributes three-quarters of the water held in the reservoir, and the Umhlathuzane River which contributes the remaining flow, would dry up.

After many disappointing years of drought, the former cotton farmer says, sceptics were saying the Usuthu River, would run out of water as SWADE tried to fill up the dam.

The Lubovane Dam was built by SWADE to support commercial farming in these poverty-stricken communities in the eastern part of the country. The first phase of the project is already irrigating 1,390 hectares of sugar-cane.

SWADE is a parastatal company with the motto 'using water to drive poverty out of rural communities' and the Lubovane Dam is at the centre of a hub of projects in the area. The dam supplies water to irrigate 1,390 hectares of commercially-grown sugar cane, but it is also intended to provide water for the use of villagers.

Recognising the interdependent uses of water, the project involves and organises the local community in improving water, sanitation and food security with water drawn from the irrigation canals.

SWADE is also working on studies to determine whether there is potential to start a tourism project around the dam, taking advantage of the fish already swimming in it.

'The dam is a vehicle to start other income-generation projects, of course determined by the community,' said Belsey.

Mamba's dream of donating food to hungry people in other countries may be over-optimistic, but the coming of the rains has doused a community in hope.

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service