Relief Challenges as Drought Plunges Lesotho into Emergency

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Collecting water from a river that has been reduced to a trickle in Mokhotlong district © WFP/Tsitsi Matope

By Tsitsi Matope

WFP plans to strengthen colloboration with the government and partners as more than 650,000 people face hunger in Lesotho's worst drought in decades. Struggling from two successive crop failures, the mountain kingdom has been pushed into a state of crisis by the El Niño weather phenomenon which has brought reduced rainfall to much of southern Africa.

A cloud of dust gathers in the air and, a short distance away, a tractor grinds through a dry field. The pain of waiting for rain has finally driven Berea farmer Teboho Tlale to plant maize under the hot sun.

"I have decided to plant because in the past droughts, it rained in December," says Tlale. " I'm praying for enough rain to nourish the crop until March."

The drought that is ravaging so much of Southern Africa has hit Lesotho hard. It has dried up most rivers in Berea district and other parts of the country. The wasted sheep have only scorched grass for pasture and little to drink. Many subsistence farmers have not planted, a sign that many families will go hungry in 2016. Unlike Tlale, 'Mamosa Matamane has given up hope that normal rains will fall this season.

"I am worried because we have very little food food left from our last harvest," says Matamane (30) whose husband has gone to join his brother in search of a job in South Africa.

So severe is the situation that, on 22 December, the Government of Lesotho declared a state of drought emergency and appealed for assistance from the international community. Lesotho needs an estimated 584 million Maloti (US$ 37 milllion) to provide water, food, nutritional support and medication to those most vulnerable people and to prevent further loss of livestock. The government has indicated it has only 150 million Maloti (US$ 9.6 million) to support relief efforts. Disaster Management Authority estimates that some 650,000 - a third of the population - will need food assistance in 2016. These include some people in urban areas who will not be able to meet the high cost of food.

Most rural families depend on rain-fed subsistence farming while wool and mohair production are the main sources of livelihhod for many people.

"WFP is appealing for additional financial support to meet the increasing needs of people caused by the drought," says World Food Programme Deputy Country Director Arduino Mangoni.

In the face of pressing funding challenges, WFP plans to provide nutritional support to nearly 40,000 people including children under the age of two, pregnant and nursing women, and patients receiving anti-retroviral therapy and TB treatment. The provision of food by WFP to 300,000 children in pre- and primary schools is set to continue throughout the country.