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Govt issues drought warning

by Lesotho Times
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Bereng Mpaki

Lesotho will receive below normal rainfall from this month up to November 2019.

Energy and Meteorology Minister Tsukutlane Au is thus imploring Basotho to use water sparingly.

Mr Au’s warning this week follows that of the United Nations (UN) which in July said up to 700 000 Basotho, about a third of the population, faced sever hunger. This after 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 had only received their first rains in late January instead of November, effectively disrupting the planting season.

Mr Au said the situation was expected to improve slightly towards the end of November with normal rains expected from then up to March 2020. But in the meantime, the anticipated dry spell would affect the population as water sources would remain subdued.

“This year’s rainfall forecast does not show much improvement from last year with below normal rains expected from September 2019 to November 2019,” Mr Au said.

“We however expect normal rains towards the end of November 2019 to March 2020, with a likelihood of above normal rainfall during that period.”

But Mr Au said there were sections of the country already experiencing water scarcity challenges due to the current dry weather conditions.

“It is therefore important for the public to manage their limited water resources sparingly during this period,” he said.

He said heat waves should be expected this summer as well as strong winds, lightning thunderstorms and hailstorms.

“This calls for a better planning and alignment of productive economic activities with the prevailing and expected conditions. The ministry of Energy and Meteorology will continuously advise the nation on impending weather hazards which might pose a risk to social welfare and property safety. The nation is therefore advised to take precautionary measures and stay alert for periodic updates.”

Director of the Lesotho Meteorological Services (LMS) ‘Mathabo Mahahabisa attributed the expected dry weather conditions to climate change.

She said like 2016, when Lesotho experienced one of the worst droughts, 2019 was one of the warmest years on record as per the records of the World Meteorological Organisation.

She said dry weather conditions had increased in the country over the past 10 years and Lesotho needed to do more to adapt to the effects of climate change.

“We therefore, call for adaptation to these climate change conditions in order to better manage them. As Lesotho, we seem to be lagging behind in adaption to climate change.

“We are in a weak El Nino, which means we may have instances of high temperatures, thunderstorms, lightning strikes and heat waves, therefore people need to prepare for these expected situations.”

Minister Au concurred and said the country was lacking in progress in adapting to climate change challenges.

“We need a climate change adaptation strategy that will allow different sectors of the society to play a role in reducing and managing the effects climate change,” Mr Au said.

For his part, Mofihli Motšetšero, from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security’s department of crops, said the cropping season was likely to be delayed with normal rains only expected by end of November 2019.

He said this called for farmers to plant crops that will ripen faster given the shorter rainy season to avoid frost towards the end of the cropping season.

“In this situation, we advise farmers to grow crop varieties that ripen quicker given the delayed start of the cropping season.”

He said farmers must also consult their nearest agricultural officers for guidance on which crops were suitable for this type of climate. He said the government would avail suitable crop varieties as part of its summer cropping subsidy.

Mr Motšetšero said farmers should move towards protected farming to adapt to climate change effects.

Billy Makakole from the Department of Water Affairs in the Ministry of Water, said dam levels and other water bodies around the country were suffering a massive knock due to the on-going dry conditions.

In July this year UN resident coordinator, Salvator Niyonzima, told the Lesotho Times that more than  a quarter of the country’s 2.2 million people were  facing massive hunger.

Mr Niyonzima said by the end of this year the figure of people in need of food assistance could reach 600 000 .  It was expected to shoot up to 700 000 by the next harvest season.

In light of that reality,  Mr Niyonzima urged the government to take the lead in mobilising its resources to avert the crisis as that would encourage international donors to follow suit. He said 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 by July 2019 stood at 500 000.

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.

“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 (June) 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),” Mr Niyonzima said.

 

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