- while politicians continue bickering
While politicians continue bickering over power, Lesotho faces its worst hunger crisis in recent years with at least 600 000 needing urgent food aid by the end of this year.
The figure could increase to more than 700 000 by the time of the next harvest in 2020, according to a top United Nations (UN) official.
The figure of those who will needing food aid represents more than a quarter of Lesotho’s entire 2, 2 million population.
In light of this reality the UN has urged the government to take the lead in mobilising its resources to avert the crisis as this will as encourage international donors to follow suit.
Lesotho, like the rest of the southern Africa region received below normal rainfall in the 2018/19 rainy season due to an El-Niño induced drought. Some areas only received rains in late January this year as opposed to the usual November rains.
UN Resident Coordinator Salvator Niyonzima this week told the Lesotho Times that the hunger situation in the country was so dire and urgently required firm commitment and action from the government to be complemented by international development partners.
Mr Niyonzima said the number of people in need of food assistance across the country currently stood at 500 000 and this figure would increase to 600 000 by the end of the year. He said it would surpass 700 000 by the time of the next harvest in 2020.
He said the food crisis was likely to affect as many people as it did during the 2015 El-Niño induced drought where an estimated 700 000 Basotho required food assistance.
“In this harvest season, in comparison to a good harvest year, crop production has been severely affected across the country,” Mr Niyonzima said.
“Due to extreme climatic conditions, in particular at the end of last year, the rains came late and many people did not plant. Maize harvests decreased by 73 percent, wheat by 61 percent and sorghum by 93 percent. This means that people will have to wait for the next harvest season.
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“As a result, the people went hungry because they didn’t have any produce, especially households that live on subsistence farming. So, it was estimated that in November 2018, there were about 300 000 Basotho in need of assistance.
“That figure went up to 470 000 in March this year. Lesotho just finished a vulnerability assessment last month and that number has passed the 500 000 mark and it is expected to increase to over 640 000 at the end of this year. This time around, I’m afraid we might actually get to 700 000 people (needing food aid by the time of the next harvest in 2020).”
He said the fact that most families did not get anything significant in the just ended harvest season means they will need food assistance up to the next harvest. He added the UN had already mobilised US$5, 5 million towards drought relief programmes through its Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF).
He said although the UN was busy mobilising funds to address the situation, it was also vital for the government to play an active role by budgeting funds for the looming humanitarian crisis.
“We are busy mobilising funding to address the situation in the coming months,” Mr Niyonzima said, adding, “However, what we haven’t seen yet is what the government is bringing to the table from its own budget”.
“It is important for the government to think about that (budgeting funds) and send out a message because that also opens the doors for more resources (from international development partners). In resource mobilisation, most of the donors will want to know what the government is doing (before they contribute).
“If people didn’t get anything during this harvest season, they will have to wait for the next harvest. This means that the lean season gets longer and leaner. As UN, we decided to take early action. We started by mobilising our own resources from a mechanism called the CERF. We mobilised US$5, 5 million to address the needs of the 300 000 who were food insecure in November 2018.
“This (food assistance) was implemented in the southern districts of Mohale’s Hoek, Mafeteng, Quthing and Qacha’s Nek but unfortunately, in the last vulnerability assessment in June this year, we were told that the whole country will be in the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) category three. The IPC is a classification of food security and an IPC three classification means there is a crisis. It means there will be a food crisis across the country at the end of this year and the beginning of next year,” he said.
In terms of the IPC three classification, households either have food consumption gaps that are reflected by high or above-usual acute malnutrition or are marginally able to meet minimum food needs but only by depleting essential livelihood assets or through crisis-coping strategies. The five phases are IPC one (minimal), IPC two (stressed) IPC three (crisis), IPC four (emergency) and IPC five (famine).
“These are issues that have to be addressed and I hope that the government will also do something about that because ultimately, the government is responsible for all these things and needs to invest resources to respond to the plight of the citizens,” Mr Niyonzima said.
The warnings about the food insecurity comes at a time when the government’s attention appears to have been diverted from addressing pressing challenges food insecurity by the incessant infighting in the parties that make up the governing coalition.
The governing coalition features Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s fractious All Basotho Convention (ABC), Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki’s Alliance of Democrats (AD) and Labour Minister Keketso Rantšo’s Reformed Congress of Lesotho (LCD). While all the parties have their share of power struggles, the biggest is undoubtedly the bitter feud in the ABC between Dr Thabane and his party deputy, Professor Nqosa Mahao, which threatens to tear apart the ABC and even collapse the government.
As the infighting rages, the government has not been able to contain growing unrest from various sections of the populace including restive teachers, nurses and factory workers who have either gone on strike or are threatening to strike to press for salary increments and improved working conditions.
There have also been unprecedented strikes by magistrates and police officers in recent weeks. Just over a fortnight ago, wool and mohair farmers converged in their tens of thousands in Maseru to stage the “mother of all protests” to press the beleaguered government to reverse its controversial regulations which bar the farmers from selling their wool and mohair from either countries or brokers of their choice. The government wants the wool and mohair to be sold from the Lesotho Wool Centre in Thaba Bosiu in a move it argues will boost government income tax earnings and ensure increased revenue for the farmers. The government is also struggling to pay service providers as it battles fiscal challenges. Its efforts to secure budget support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have so far hit a brick wall with the Bretton-Woods institution imposing several conditions, among them, the reduction of the high public wage bill, public financial management reforms as well as the implementation of the much-delayed multi-sector reforms that were recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2016.