Lesotho + 1 more

Assistance to vulnerable groups in Lesotho and Swaziland

Originally published
Amount of decision: 2,000,000 euro
Decision reference number: ECHO/-SF/BUD/2004/01000

Explanatory Memorandum

1 - Rationale, needs and target population:

1.1. - Rationale:

Swaziland and Lesotho are in a profound and worsening humanitarian crisis. The cumulative effects of severe drought, inefficient agricultural policies, and the poor state of these economies are at the origin of this crisis. This situation is compounded by the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the failure to recognise its dramatic social and economical impact.

Swaziland and Lesotho suffer from the cumulative effects of severe drought over the last few years, leading both governments to declaring a state of emergency in February of 2004. Prognoses indicate that the 2004 harvests will be far below the normal yields. For Lesotho, the government assumes that, despite the ongoing support from the World Food Programme (WFP) and other international Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), there will be a shortfall of 56,000 Metric Tonnes (MT) of maize (19,000 MT according to WFP). This means that until the harvest in 2005, at the earliest, 600,000 people in Lesotho will be affected by the drought and the consequent food insecurity.

The rising unemployment rates in South Africa mean that more and more of the population of both Swaziland and Lesotho are coming to depend on subsistence farming to produce their food needs. For example, in Lesotho, it is estimated that up to 80% of the population depends to some degree, on self-producing their own food, with 46% wholly dependent on subsistence farming. All this, in a country [Lesotho] where only 12% of the land is suitable for cultivation, where farming practices are detrimental to sustainable agriculture (top soil erosion, heavy reliance on maize, lack of crop diversification, lack of irrigation, etc). Thus, the additional stress factor of the drought has a major impact.

Aggravating the situation are the poverty levels of both countries and the lack of the means just to purchase food on the market, however low the price. Due to expected poor crops in South Africa as well, food prices throughout the region are rising.

Economic indicators for Lesotho and Swaziland are deceptive, particularly the per capita Gross National Income (GNI) of respectively US$470 (Lesotho) and US$1,180 (Swaziland). Taking into account other social indicators, the Human Development ranking for these countries was 139 (Lesotho) and 133 (Swaziland) for 2003, roughly on par with the ranking for Sudan, a country plagued by violent armed conflict during the last two decades.(1)

Intensifying this already precarious situation in both countries is the scope of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In Swaziland and Lesotho, nearly 40% of the respective populations are affected by HIV and AIDS. The pandemic is exacerbated by, and in turn exacerbates, the deep poverty, the worsening food security situation, the rapidly growing unemployment,(2) and the dramatic reduction in life expectancy. Life expectancy at birth was 44 years for Swaziland and 43 years for Lesotho in 2002, down from about 65 years in 1990.(3)

UNAIDS' data put the national average HIV prevalence in Lesotho at 32% (2002). A preliminary report of a surveillance study in 2003, however, places the figure closer to 36%. Infection rates are particularly high among people in the reproductive age group of 20-30 years, who form a large proportion of the economically active population. For Swaziland, the 2002 HIV prevalence level for the 20-24 age group was 45% and 48% for the 25-29 age group.(4)

In addition to its humanitarian and social consequences, HIV/AIDS has severe economic costs, as it constrains output growth, eliminates work skills and knowledge, shrinks the tax base, raises health-related costs, diminishes disposable income and increases financial imbalance in the public pension funds. With an ever-rising curve of infection rates, with a vast demographic trough amongst the most productive part of the population, with, consequently, a disproportionate number of orphans, the situation can only be described as catastrophic.

The humanitarian condition facing these two countries, with a combined population of just over 3 million persons,(5) is among the worst in the world, but it receives little coverage. As described in the recent Southern African Humanitarian Appeal: '...The silent disaster of HIV/AIDS and continuing high vulnerability to HIV/AIDS infection carry on unabated in Swaziland and Lesotho. Deaths occur out of sight, behind the façade of home based care, leaving new orphans everyday, and increasing the numbers of child-headed households...'

For ECHO therefore, the humanitarian state of affairs in these countries, qualifies them as "forgotten crises", in accordance with ECHO definition and strategy on this type of crisis(6). While humanitarian interventions are needed, it is essential that relief interventions continue to complement ongoing development assistance and future long-term sector support (e.g. multi-annual support to HIV/AIDS programme from the Global Fund) provided by other bilateral and multilateral donors. Concurrent with the humanitarian interventions, an enhanced dialogue with development actors will be maintained in order to reinforce a development strategy that addresses the longterm issues such as HIV/AIDS, poverty, and appropriate agricultural policies (including water).


(1) World Bank, World Development Indicators (data for 2002); UNDP, Human Development Report, 2003.

(2) Unemployment is especially affected after the lay-offs in the mining sector of South Africa, from which so much of the population in both countries derive remittances, and on which they depend.

(3) World Bank, World Development Indicators.

(4) Alan Whiteside et al, "What is driving the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Swaziland and what more can we do about it? April 2003.

(5 ) Lesotho: 2,086,700; Swaziland: 1,088,180. World Bank, World Development Indicators.

(6) See ECHO Aid strategy 2004