Kingdom of Lesotho declares food situation a 'crisis'

Report
from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 11 Jul 2007
(Johannesburg: 11 July 2007): The Kingdom of Lesotho yesterday declared a food security emergency in the country and appealed for international assistance.

The crisis is precipitated by the country's most severe drought in the last 30 years, which slashed the staple maize crop harvest by more than 40 percent. As a result, more than 400,000 people - or a fifth of the population - are in need of emergency food aid.

The Government issued the declaration based on United Nations (UN) reports showing a major food gap. The country produced 72,000 tonnes of cereals compared to 126,200 tonnes last year, according to reports from the UN World Food Programme and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The government-led Vulnerability Assessment Committee will soon release further figures on the number of people affected and their other needs.

Approximately 328,000 tonnes of cereals are required to feed the country. The harvest, combined with expected commercial imports totalling 219,000 tonnes and 7,000 tonnes of existing food aid, will leave a deficit of 30,000 tonnes of cereals, according to the Government.

The significant drop in cereal production such as maize, sorghum and summer wheat has increased prices beyond the reach of many households. Reduced harvests in South Africa, the main regional supplier, have also contributed to the price increases. Those depending most heavily on markets to obtain their daily food needs, such as the landless or those living in urban areas, stand to suffer the most if the situation continues.

Food shortages will most severely affect those living with HIV and AIDS, who need a healthy diet to be able to derive benefit from life-saving antiretrovirals (ARVs). An estimated 270,000 people, or 14 per cent of the population, are infected with HIV/AIDS, according to UNAIDS. Additionally, the crop failure has also reduced casual labour opportunities, making it even harder for the nation's poor to survive.

"The situation is critical for those already living on the edge, struggling to cope with the combined impact of successive crop failures, poverty and HIV/AIDS. The international community must respond rapidly to assist the Government in averting a crisis," said UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes.

Lesotho is not the only country in the region facing food shortages in the coming months. More than five million people across Southern Africa - including 400,000 people in Swaziland and as many as four million people in Zimbabwe - will require international assistance due to drought and other factors. The United Nations and its partners are supporting affected countries in their response. An international humanitarian appeal for Swaziland will be issued shortly.

For further information, please contact: Stephanie Bunker, OCHA-New York, +1 917 367 5126, mobile +1 917 892 1679; Dizery Salim, OCHA-New York, +1 917 367 9262; Elisabeth Byrs, OCHA-Geneva, +41 22 917 2653, mobile, +41 79 473 4570; Michelle Thulkanam, OCHA-Southern Africa. +27 11 517 1635, mobile + 27 82 4111 442.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

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