Lesotho: El Niño-related Drought - Office of the Resident Coordinator Situation Update No. 3 (as of 19 May 2016)

Situation Report
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  • Lesotho continues to face a drought crisis. While the peak of the El Nino weather phenomenon has subsided, its significant effects on the population are set to continue and worsen until at least April 2017.

  • Below normal rainfall has continued in Lesotho with forecasts predicting this is likely to persist until June 2016.

  • A recent Nutrition and HIV mass screening assessment conducted in five districts, found that 8.2% of pregnant and lactating mothers were moderately malnourished. 2.2% of children under the age of five were moderately malnourished while 0.6% had severe acute malnutrition.

  • In a recent effort to assess the impact of the drought on children, it was found that child labour, sexual abuse of children and separation from usual caregivers have increased as a result of the drought.

  • The Government of Lesotho has declared a state of emergency (22 December 2016) and has requested international support.

  • While some response operations have commenced with the limited funding received so far, other limited funds that have been pledged will allow limited continuation and expansion of the ongoing humanitarian response. So far the level of funding in general has meant that funding received has had to be prioritised to provide limited coverage in the hardest hit areas.

  • A recent FAO study identified that in order to maintain cereal consumption in vulnerable households in Lesotho, every percentage increase in the price of cereals would have to be matched by a 0.4 percent increase in total income.

Situation Overview

Lesotho, like the rest of Southern Africa, is experiencing the impacts of an unprecedented El Niño phenomenon, including two consecutive years of drought and erratic rains. An LVAC Rapid Assessment conducted in January 2016 found the estimated total number of people at risk of food insecurity in Lesotho has increased to 534,502 people from 463,936 in July 2015.

The Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee has been re-formed. In May 2016, teams have conducted data collection in the districts and results are currently being analysed and compiled with findings expected to be available by June 1, 2016. Because of a number of factors relating to the poor harvest, food price rises, limited labour opportunities and poor access to water, it is expected that the LVAC findings will reflect a further deterioration of the findings of the Rapid Assessment from January 2016.

The Government of Lesotho (GoL) declared a state of emergency (22 December 2015) in light of the drought that has gripped the country since 2015 and is expected to continue through 2016 with continued negative impacts through 2017. The historic delays in rains attributed to El Niño are expected to have a severe impact on the food security of Basotho people in 2016 and 2017. Many areas that suffered water shortages in late 2015, are likely to start experiencing such water shortages by the middle of 2016 until seasonal rains recommence in October.

The current drought cannot only be seen as a food security crisis. It is impacting different sectors including food security and agriculture, water, health and nutrition as well as migration and protection.
The Government of Lesotho will likely release its official crop forecast figures in May 2016, these results will be published in the next situation update. According to the LVAC Market Assessment from March 2016, all 10 districts are expected to have been affected by lower production levels. Key informant discussions in this assessment place maize production in the country for the 2015-16 harvest at 35,000MT, down from 74,000MT in 2014-15.

The total cereal domestic annual requirements in Lesotho (stocks for human consumption, animal feed and waste) are estimated at 360,000MT. The lower expected production occurs at a time when food prices have been increasing in Lesotho. According the Bureau of Statistics, the price of a 12.5kg bag of white maize in Maseru has increased by 37% between March 2015 and March 2016.

One of the objectives of the LVAC market survey was to determine programming modalities that could be viably used to reach food insecure population. The assessment determined that some community councils are able to support Cash (27 out of 62 councils) or vouchers (26 out of 62 councils) while others will require in-kind assistance (8 out of 62 councils).

A recent Nutrition and HIV survey found that the amount of pregnant and lactating women moderately malnourished was 8.2%, however this reflects a 37% increase in comparison to the 2014 DHS. The same survey found that there had been an increase in malnutrition during January and February where 5.23% and 7.61% of the total children screened were found to be malnourished. While the highest caseloads are in Quthing and Maseru, increases in nutrition caseload does appear to be distributed evenly across districts assessed, with an impact observed in Maseru and Mohale’s Hoek. There is an 8.3% increase in admissions of malnourished children for January – March 2016 (65) compared to same time last year (60). Maseru and Mohale’s Hoek account for the highest admissions.

With regards to HIV this survey found that 33 children 0 – 5 years, 28 children 6 – 9 years, 58 children 10 – 19 years and 1,938 adults have been lost to follow up. 86% health facilities reported following up with clients who missed appointments (using tracking tools, phones and VHWs, while others reported a major challenge is the distance). 28% of the health facilities reported that they observed a reduction of clients on ART in the last three months. The districts with the highest number of ART clients lost to follow up (LTFU) were Maseru, and Mohale’s Hoek. While defaulters in Mohale’s Hoek seem to remain stable, a steady increase can be seen in the last months in Maseru.

Concerning rising protection issues, only 33% of the health facilities indicated that they managed GBV victims according to the national protocol, and most common reason not to do so was absence of said protocol. GBV and other protection issues arise as one of the negative consequences out of the stress provoked by the drought. Currently, further data gathering is ongoing. A recent survey of schools found that two-thirds of schools in Qacha’s Nek had been affected by water shortages. The data analysis for water shortages in schools is ongoing for all districts.