THE European Union (EU) has given the World Food Programme (WFP) €1, 5 million to provide emergency food aid to at least 22 000 Basotho in need of food assistance in Lesotho.
The fund was announced this week by the EU Ambassador to Lesotho, Christian Manahl, at a joint media briefing with the WFP and the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Maseru.
Dr Manahl said the money was availed in response to a flash appeal for US$34 million which was launched two months ago by the United Nations to urgently support 260 000 food insecure Basotho with life-saving interventions up until April 2020.
“We are happy to assist the government and UN agencies in addressing the immediate emergency but we also contribute to overcoming recurrent food insecurity through long-term resilience building,” said Dr Manahl.
“Last year, a national drought emergency was declared, and a flash appeal was made to support of the government-led Drought Response and Resilience Plan. The flash appeal requires €74 million (M 1, 2 billion) to target 261 000 people in 10 districts between November 2019 and April 2020”.
WFP Country Director, Mary Njoroge, said the EU’s donation will enable the WFP to provide food assistance, agricultural as well as water and sanitation support to 22 000 families in four of the country’s 10 districts. The four districts are Mohale’s Hoek, Mafeteng, Quthing and Qacha’s Nek.
Ms Njoroge said the WFP would collaborate with the government through the Disaster Management Authority (DMA) , the Ministry of Social Development and local councils to identify the most vulnerable households who will be eligible for assistance in the form of groceries procured from local retailers and monthly mobile cash transfers to enable them to cater for other needs.
“The WFP has implemented an innovative new way of providing assistance to the most vulnerable and worst affected people,” she said, “We are now providing selected households with a combination of cash and locally procured food”.
Ms Njoroge said as recommended by the Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee (LVAC) each eligible household will receive groceries including mealie meal and cooking oil from a participating local retailer and M350 in cash to be paid via Vodacom Lesotho’s M-Pesa mobile money service to enable them to buy other household requirements.
On his part, UN Resident Coordinator, Salvator Niyonzima said they were working flat out to assist the government in addressing the effects of the drought which left more than 500 000 or a quarter of Lesotho’s 2, 1 million population in urgent need of food assistance.
“The situation in Lesotho is very worrying. Climate change has been the driving force behind recurrent droughts that have pushed more than half a million people into a major food security crisis. “It is imperative that comprehensive action is taken now to address the negative effects of climate change and ensure that the most vulnerable people are not left behind,” Mr Niyonzima said.
He said the EU’s funding comes at a time when more than 30 percent of the population is experiencing “crisis levels of food insecurity” a result of the drought. He said the production of maize, the staple food, declined by a whopping 78 percent in 2019 compared to the previous year.
The government declared a state of emergency last October and appealed to the EU and other development partners for assistance to feed the nation.
It was on the back of this appeal that the UN subsequently issued a flash appeal for US$34 million last December. While launching the appeal, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA’s) spokesperson, Jens Laerke, revealed that at least 71 000 food insecure people were “one step away from famine”.
The USD$34 million UN flash appeal is however, not enough as it will only assist 260 000 out of the more than 500 000 people who are in dire need of aid.
An October 2019 UN report put the number of rural Basotho who will need food aid from October 2019 to March 2020 at 430 410 (or 20 percent of the Lesotho’s 2,1 million population). The report titled Lesotho: Drought Situation Update, the office of the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Lesotho, states that 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.
The large number of food insecure people is attributed to the poor harvests and deterioration of rangelands as a result of the below normal rains from April to September 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 UN states in its report.
Lesotho, like the rest of the southern Africa region, received below normal rainfall in the 2018/19 rainy season due to the El-Niño induced drought.
Mr Niyonzima said it was highly unlikely that the upcoming 2020 harvest season would significantly improve the food situation as the rains came very late and many rural farmers did not even plant any crops as a result.