Time runing out for a Lesotho village as starvation set to strike
RAMOSOTHOANE, Lesotho, Nov 5 (AFP) - In a remote valley in Lesotho's forbidding Maluti mountain range, in southern Africa, a small village is in trouble.
For several days, Nahano Peter, 48, has made a leap of faith as he tills his land with his two sons and a team of oxen, preparing to plant seeds the government has promised him.
In a nearby hut, Motlalehi Mphoboko, 32, has slaughtered her last pig, hoping to sell the meat for a few coins to buy maize to feed her two young children.
For Ramosothoane village, 120 kilometres (75 miles) southeast of the capital Maseru, time is slowly running out in the battle to keep its 90 households from starvation.
The problems in Ramosothoane are an example of what hundreds of small villages dotting the steep mountains of Lesotho -- the "roof of Africa" -- are facing as adverse weather exacerbates a food crisis.
In April, the government declared a state of famine in the country the size of Belgium, an enclave within South Africa with a population of 2.2 million.
In October, Foreign Minister Mohlabi Tsekoa told reporters: "Scores of our people need urgent assistance and South Africa has volunteered to help."
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that some 650,000 people in Lesotho -- just one of seven countries in the region facing potential starvation -- will need emergency food when the crisis peaks around March next year.
But UN agencies say they are desperately short of donor funds to provide emergency food for 14 million people in the region -- a situation that is complicated by the refusal of Zambia to accept genetically modified maize, and restrictions on it by Mozambique and Zimbabwe, as well as charges that Zimbabwe is diverting relief food to government supporters.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said on October 21 that it had received only 8.7 million dollars (8.9 million euros), or 34 percent, of the 25 million dollars requested in an appeal to the international community in mid-August.
"This is the second year without crops. Some people really need food around here," said Ramosothoane village chief Lilline Koloi.
"They are worried what they are going to plant, because we are still waiting for the seeds the government has promised us," he told AFP outside his hut.
For Peter, the season to plant maize to produce Lesotho's staple diet of pap (porridge) is all but over. The only things left to plant are wheat and beans, but there are no seeds.
Because of last season's crop shortages, the villagers have eaten seeds meant for planting, which means they are relying on government handouts.
But unlike other countries in southern Africa, starvation in Lesotho is hard to spot.
Recent rains have turned the mountains green, and everywhere people are ploughing. In some places, the first leaves of a maize crop have already sprouted.
But, said Viney Jain, the WFP's deputy country director: "Some people think an emergency must look like the drought in Ethiopia. This here is real hunger, it is still a slow death."
He said the WFP was currently feeding some 362,000 elderly and disabled, and orphans.
"At the moment we are only feeding these people. But we are expecting it to get a lot worse," the WFP's Clelia Barbodoro, in charge of food distribution in the southern Mohale's Hoek district, told AFP.
The food crisis in Lesotho has been exacerbated by a 31 percent HIV-AIDS infection rate among adults, the fourth highest in the world, according to WFP figures.
In many households, the breadwinners have died and many families depend on food handed out at around 70 distribution points.
At Makhosi Village about 150 kilometres (90 miles) south of Maseru, 74-year-old Manai Shetlane pulled her traditional Basotho blanket closer around her as she stood in line to receive her monthly supply of 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of maize, five kilograms of beans and two litres (five pints) of cooking oil.
"Without this I would have been really struggling. I was dependent on the goodwill of my neighbours and I have no money," she told AFP after loading her donkey with her supplies to face the three-hour trek back to her village.
Her husband died in 1999 of unknown causes and most of her children now live in South Africa.
"For us here its very hard," the elderly woman said.
Copyright (c) 2002 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 11/05/2002 09:27:27
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