Boreholes Plentiful in Swaziland but Lack of Drinking Water a Serious Economic Threat

27 March 2013 FDI Team

One of the world’s poorest nations, Swaziland has long suffered from many social, economic and political problems to which it has thus far failed to achieve any semblance of resolution. Now people in the land-locked southern African country are struggling with the problem of sourcing drinking water, despite a seeming abundance of wells. 


Locals in Swaziland are forced to bypass government-developed boreholes to access dirty rivers to source drinking water, despite an attempt by the government to overcome the problem through the Umtfombo Wekuphila Water Scheme. The scheme was responsible for the drilling of hundreds of boreholes throughout various regions in the country, but passed on responsibility for funding the maintenance of the wells to their users. As Swaziland is one of the world’s poorest nations, most locals could not afford to contribute to these upkeep costs; the result has been that many of the wells have broken down and remain unrepaired.


At first glance, a monthly payment of around about US$1.60 does not seem a particularly burdensome obligation in exchange for a clean water source. When put in the context that sixty-three per cent of Swaziland’s population lives below the poverty line of two US dollars per day, however, it becomes apparent that such an obligation is simply unaffordable for many of the people that use the wells. Now, due to neglect and lack of maintenance, the cost of repairing one such borehole, in the village of Ekuphakameni, is up to seventeen dollars per person – a huge sum for the locals. 

Due to the concentration of salt in the water, the hand-operated pumps that accompany many of the wells often corrode and break down. Others simply run out of water altogether.

Swaziland’s Rural Water department claims that 69 per cent of the population has access to clean water; however the Water Project, an NGO that assists African countries to access clean water, says that around ninety per cent of community water projects in Swaziland are not working. In the Matsanjeni constituency, of which Ekuphakameni is a part, 75 of the 175 boreholes were not working; the remaining 100 were insufficient to cater for the population of 17,000.

According to Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), most of the government water schemes have collapsed due to mismanagement. The escalating costs of pumping the water out of the wells have been passed to the communities. The government is, apparently, attempting to fix the problem through a process of assessment of the borehole network. The aim is to establish how many are functioning and how many are not. According to the Rural Water Department, five out of the country’s fifty-five constituencies have so far been investigated. The government will also show rural communities how to run the pumps efficiently.

This emerges after recent revelations that the government has been selling maize donated by Japan as food aid and banking the cash in the Central Bank of Swaziland. The country has not produced enough food to feed itself since the 1970s. It depends on international food aid to bridge a varying gap between the needs of the country’s 1.2 million people and the ability of the land to produce crops even after recent better than average rainfall.

As a country that experiences similar difficulties with water availability and extraction, many Australian organisations and individuals are well placed to provide advice and assistance to Swaziland. Many regions in Western Australia, in particular, would be well suited to providing solutions to comparable problems faced in the arid regions of the north-west.

Tom Davy
Research Manager
Global Food and Water Security Research Programme

[email protected]




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