Climatic shocks, declining economic growth and the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic have worsened the humanitarian situation in Lesotho. In 2021, projections indicate that Lesotho’s gross domestic product growth will decelerate to negative 5.1 per cent; crop production will drop by 30 per cent; water insecurity will persist; access to education and social support systems will decline; and reports of gender-based violence will rise. Overall, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has increased from 508,000 in 2019 to 766,000 in 2020.
UNICEF will support 383,000 people, including 321,000 children, in Lesotho by strengthening integrated community health systems, providing water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services, supporting accelerated and safe learning in schools and reaching vulnerable children with child grants.
UNICEF is requesting US$6.7 million to meet humanitarian needs in Lesotho, particularly WASH, education, child protection and social protection needs.
HUMANITARIAN SITUATION AND NEEDS
The humanitarian situation in Lesotho has deteriorated due to a series of climatic shocks, including three consecutive seasons of drought, declining economic growth and the COVID-19 pandemic. As of September, Lesotho had confirmed over 1,300 COVID-19 cases and 33 deaths.
Economic growth has continued to decline in Lesotho in recent years. The gross domestic product growth rate was projected to decelerate from 1.4 per cent in 2019–2020 to 0.4 per cent in 2020–2021 before the global shutdown; and has since been revised downwards to negative 5.1 per cent for 2020–2021. The remittances of over 400,000 Basotho who were working in South Africa have declined as migrants return home due to job loss and COVID-19 lockdowns, increasing the vulnerability of households dependent on remittances (17 per cent of households).
Access to health services remains limited, especially in rural areas, due to the long distances to facilities. COVID-19 has overstretched health systems and disrupted health service continuity. With the second highest HIV prevalence globally and in the absence of community HIV services due to COVID-19, Lesotho is facing heightened risks of HIV and unplanned pregnancies. Adolescents and young people could be more vulnerable to new HIV infections, gender-based violence, unwanted pregnancies and child marriage, increasing the need for mental health and psychosocial support.
Since March 2020, all 4,188 schools and early childhood development centres have been closed, affecting 511,000 learners, most of whom are in rural areas. Access to formal and non-formal education has been greatly affected, and a significant number of children are at risk of dropping out permanently. Children’s routines and social support systems have been severely disrupted.
Crop production has continued to decline for the third year in a row. A 30 per cent decline is projected for the 2019–2020 season, which will severely impact nutritional well-being.
Lesotho experiences persistent water insecurity, and COVID-19 has further increased water and hygiene needs in schools, health facilities and communities.
Food insecurity is expected to increase the overall number of people in need of humanitarian assistance from 508,000 people in 2019 (433,000 rural and 75,000 urban) to 766,000 people between October 2020 and March 2021 (582,000 rural and 184,000 urban). This means that 40 per cent of the rural population and 27 per cent of the urban population will require humanitarian assistance.