- UN warns that sexual exploitation of women and child marriages could increase due to food insecurity
AT least 430 410 rural Basotho (or 20 percent of the Lesotho’s 2,1 million population) will be in need of food aid from October 2019 to March 2020 due to poor harvests in the 2019 agricultural season, the United Nations has revealed in its latest report on Lesotho. The total number of rural and urban people expected to be food insecure is 508 125 or 25 percent of the country’s entire population.
In its report titled Lesotho: Drought Situation Update, the office of the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Lesotho, also states that women and young girls have been hit hardest and they will be more vulnerable to sexual abuse and sexual exploitation as a result of the food insecurity.
The report states that some girls have been forced to drop out of school to support their families and warns that “child marriages are likely to rise in the near future and need to be monitored”.
The latest UN figures on the food situation in the country reflect an increase of 80 410 rural people who will be needing food aid from this month onwards. Previously, the UN said that at least 350 000 rural people were “severely food insecure” in the period May to September 2019.
The increase in the numbers of food insecure people is attributed to the poor winter harvests and deterioration of rangelands as a result of the below normal rains from April to September 2019.
Four districts, namely Maseru, Mohale’s Hoek, Quthing and Qacha’s Nek were initially placed in category three which the UN describes as a “crisis” situation in the period May to September 2019. However, due to the poor winter harvests and deterioration of rangelands which negatively affected the quality of livestock, all the country’s 10 districts have been placed in the “crisis” category three classification.
According to the UN report, “in the period May to September 2019, approximately 350 000 rural people were in phase 3 (emergency food security situation)”.
“Four districts; Maseru, Mohale’s Hoek, Quthing and Qacha’s Nek are classified in Phase 3. Households either have 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 situation is expected to deteriorate further and around 430 410 rural people are expected to be severely food insecure with all the districts classified in phase 3 in October 2019 to March 2020. The total food insecure population for consumption year 2019/2020 is 508 125 people,” the UN states in its report published on 8 October 2019.
The report also states that women and young girls have been hit hardest and they will be more vulnerable to sexual abuse and sexual exploitation as a result of the food insecurity.
“In the current Lesotho drought, women and young girls are disproportionately affected because of their inherent vulnerabilities.
“Girls and young women who are heads of households are also more exposed to sexual abuse and sexual exploitation in exchange for food. Occasional reports mention that some girls drop out of school to support the household and siblings. Child marriages are likely to rise in the near future and need to be monitored.”
The report states that the UN Humanitarian Country Team obtained US$ 5 550 533 from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and allocated it to different sectors as part of efforts “to ensure that the most urgent and life-saving humanitarian activities in key sectors are initiated”.
Of that US$5, 5 million, the largest chunk of USD$2 716 917 was allocated to food security while US$1 462 944 was set aside for agricultural activities. Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH got US$591 175). Nutrition got US$157 427 and child protection got US$119 883. Another US$401 850 was allocated for “protection for gender-based violence and migration”.
Through the CERF allocation, the Humanitarian Country Team targeted 273 635 people in four districts of the country, namely Mohale’s Hoek, Maseru, Quthing and Qacha’s Nek which were originally projected to be in Phase 3 (“crisis category”).
“Resource mobilisation efforts are currently ongoing with international donors, including European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), bilateral donors and development banks to bridge the financing gap,” the report says.
Back in July 2019, UN Resident Coordinator Salvator Niyonzima told the Lesotho Times that Lesotho faces its worst hunger crisis in recent years with at least 600 000 in both rural and urban areas needing urgent food aid by the end of this year.
Mr Niyonzima said the figure could increase to more than 700 000 by the time of the next harvest in 2020. He also 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. It remains to be seen whether or not the government will heed the UN’s calls for it to do more to address the pressing challenges of food insecurity as its attention appears to have been diverted by the incessant infighting in the parties that make up the governing coalition.
The governing coalition comprises of 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 months. 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.