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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 February, 2004, 15:52 GMT
National disaster in Swaziland
A Swazi Aids orphan
Some 40% of Swazis are HIV positive
A national disaster has been declared in Swaziland as a result of ravaging drought and the spread of HIV/Aids.

Swaziland's prime minister Themba Dlamini has announced that the country is facing a humanitarian crisis and appealed for international aid.

The World Food Programme (WFP) says some 200,000 people, about a quarter of the population are in need of food aid.

In recent weeks, King Mswati III has been criticised for backing several costly royal projects.

Many parts of southern Africa are in the grip of drought and last week Lesotho also declared an emergency, saying 800,000 people needed help.

Close scrutiny

"Aids, drought and land degradation, all these have reinforced negative effects that have created a web of extreme vulnerability reinforced by the collapse of family structures," Mr Dlamini said.

The WFP's Sarah Laughton said she expected the announcement to unlock new funds from donors.

King Mswati III
Mswati wants to build new palaces for his 11 wives
"The situation has definitely worsened since October last year, when people were still hopeful about the rain. What happened is in December and January is that it had become clear that the rains were not sufficient," she told the AFP news agency.

More than two-thirds of Swaziland's population live on less than $1 per day and as many as 40% of the population are estimated to be HIV positive.

Correspondents say King Mswati, Africa's only absolute monarch, has been reluctant to declare a national disaster to avoid a close scrutiny of government spending from foreign donors.

He last month requested $15m to build new palaces for his 11 wives and has been seeking to buy a royal jet.

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