700,000 Basotho Face Severe Hunger

By Staff Writer

The figure could increase to more than 700 000 by the time of the next harvest in 2020, according to a top United Nations (UN) official.

The figure of those who will be needing food aid represents more than a quarter of Lesotho’s entire 2, 2 million population.

In light of this reality, the UN has urged the government to take the lead in mobilising its resources to avert the crisis as this will as encourage international donors to follow suit.

Lesotho, like the rest of the southern Africa region, received below normal rainfall in the 2018/19 rainy season due to an El-Niño induced drought. Some areas only received rains in late January this year as opposed to the usual November rains.

UN Resident Coordinator Salvator Niyonzima this week told the Lesotho Times that the hunger situation in the country was so dire and urgently required firm commitment and action from the government to be complemented by international development partners.

Mr Niyonzima said the number of people in need of food assistance across the country currently stood at 500 000 and this figure would increase to 600 000 by the end of the year. He said it would surpass 700 000 by the time of the next harvest in 2020.

He said the food crisis was likely to affect as many people as it did during the 2015 El-Niño induced drought were an estimated 700 000 Basotho required food assistance.

“In this harvest season, in comparison to a good harvest year, crop production has been severely affected across the country,” Mr Niyonzima said.

lesotho flag

“Due to extreme climatic conditions, in particular at the end of last year, the rains came late and many people did not plant. Maize harvests decreased by 73 per cent, wheat by 61 per cent and sorghum by 93 per cent. This means that people will have to wait for the next harvest season.

“As a result, the people went hungry because they didn’t have any products, especially households that live on subsistence farming. So, it was estimated that in November 2018, there were about 300 000 Basotho in need of assistance.

“That figure went up to 470 000 in March this year. Lesotho just finished a vulnerability assessment last month and that number has passed the 500 000 marks and it is expected to increase to over 640 000 at the end of this year. This time around, I’m afraid we might actually get to 700 000 people (needing food aid by the time of the next harvest in 2020).”

He said the fact that most families did not get anything significant in the just ended harvest season means they will need food assistance up to the next harvest. He added the UN had already mobilised US$5, 5 million towards drought relief programmes through its Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF).

He said although the UN was busy mobilising funds to address the situation, it was also vital for the government to play an active role by budgeting funds for the looming humanitarian crisis.

The warnings about the food insecurity comes at a time when the government’s attention appears to have been diverted from addressing pressing challenges food insecurity by the incessant infighting in the parties that make up the governing coalition.

The governing coalition features Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s fractious All Basotho Convention (ABC), Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki’s Alliance of Democrats (AD) and Labour Minister Keketso Rantšo’s Reformed Congress of Lesotho (LCD). While all the parties have their share of power struggles, the biggest is undoubtedly the bitter feud in the ABC between Dr Thabane and his party deputy, Professor Nqosa Mahao, which threatens to tear apart the ABC and even collapse the government.

As the infighting rages, the government has not been able to contain growing unrest from various sections of the populace including restive teachers, nurses and factory workers who have either gone on strike or are threatening to strike to press for salary increments and improved working conditions.

There have also been unprecedented strikes by magistrates and police officers in recent weeks. Just over a fortnight ago, wool and mohair farmers converged in their tens of thousands in Maseru to stage the “mother of all protests” to press the beleaguered government to reverse its controversial regulations which bar the farmers from selling their wool and mohair from either countries or brokers of their choice. The government wants the wool and mohair to be sold from the Lesotho Wool Centre in Thaba Bosiu in a move it argues will boost government income tax earnings and ensure increased revenue for the farmers. The government is also struggling to pay service providers as it battles fiscal challenges. Its efforts to secure budget support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have so far hit a brick wall with the Bretton-Woods institution imposing several conditions, among them, the reduction of the high public wage bill, public financial management reforms as well as the implementation of the much-delayed multi-sector reforms that were recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2016.

Source: Lesotho Times

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