MORE than 600 000 people or one quarter of the country's two million population will require food aid due to the El-Niño induced drought which has hit the country hard during the 2019/2020 farming season.
This was recently revealed by the Chief Executive Officer of the Disaster Management Authority (DMA), Haretsebe Mahosi. Mr Mahosi however, warned against the Lesotho's culture of dependence on food aid, saying this was not sustainable and the country urgently needed to produce its own food.
The DMA found that 487 857 people urgently require food aid with the number expected to increase to 640 000 from July 2019 to June 2020.
The rural population is said to be most affected with 407 191 people needing food assistance compared to 80 666 in the urban areas.
At least 70 percent of Lesotho's population leaves in the rural areas where agriculture is the main source of food production.
However, with longs spells of drought or heavy floods, crop production and animal rearing has declined over the years, leaving many families food insecure.
The latest DMA report shows that the country needs M203 728 million to procure food to address the needs of the vulnerable segments of the population.
The report further states that the government is working with local and international partners to address the food need and to mitigate the impact across the country.
The United Nations (UN) Lesotho, in collaboration with development partners, has since mobilised M77 707 462 to support the government to deliver urgent lifesaving assistance to food insecure households in the Mohale's Hoek, Maseru, Quthing and Qacha's Nek districts.
Mr Mahosi said while humanitarian assistance was welcome, it was not sustainable and Basotho therefore urgently needed to start producing their own food.
"It is not about how much food aid we can get but it is about how much food we can produce or buy," Mr Mahosi said.
"The issue of food aid should be the last option when we have tried and tried and failed to produce our own food. We should now jump on to innovation that will help us to sustain our livelihoods. Humanitarian assistance should be a means of closing the gap but not the order of the day. If we make it the first option, then we are an endangered species. We don't want to be the last ones surviving in Lesotho."
On his part, the UN Lesotho resident coordinator, Salvatore Niyonzima, said the dire humanitarian situation in Lesotho had gone beyond food security with other key sectors such as water and sanitation, health also affected.
Mr Niyonzima said UN Lesotho was concerned about the situation and had partnered with the DMA to deliver urgent lifesaving assistance to households to reduce morbidity and mortality, to protect livelihoods, and to prevent and respond to protection risks to the affected communities, including women, children, senior citizens and persons with disability.
"The UN funds support interventions in the fields of nutrition, water, and sanitation, agriculture, food security, health and protection. Modalities include financing emergency food/cash transfers to the most vulnerable and food insecure households, distribution of home garden kits and livestock vaccination kits," Mr Niyonzima said.
He said that more resources will have to be mobilised to address the desperate situation that is set to worsen in the coming months.
"The situation does not seem to be getting better. More resources will therefore be required and joint coordinated action will be necessary to address the increasing number of people requiring assistance.
"At the same time, it is important to integrate elements of early recovery and resilience building, and to link humanitarian action with ongoing development efforts in the drought-affected areas. It is also important to encourage farmers to go back to farms and produce food for their families and the nation. For that they need support in a variety of ways, including with seeds and tillage," he said.
Mr Niyonzima said the effects of drought were mostly felt by women and children and therefore it was critical to ensure that mitigation strategies focused on protecting women, children, people with disabilities and the elderly.
"The evidence shows that in one of the clinics in Mohale's Hoek pregnant women are required to bring their own water to the clinic," Mr Niyonzima said.
The UN and government representatives are currently out on field trips to various districts to review the effectiveness of the lifesaving assistance.