Lesotho: Drought Breeds Multi-Faceted Crises for Border Communities

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(File photo).

The recent El-Nino induced drought has spawned a multi-faceted crisis for Basotho communities in the border areas with South Africa who are often forced to illegally graze their livestock in the neighbouring country.

The practice of seeking pastures in South Africa has opened up the border communities to a whole range of conflicts with their neighbours who have retaliated by either stealing or impounding the livestock and demanding hefty fines of as much as M2500 for the release of each cow.

In addition, some of the impoverished families have forced their young girls into early marriages of convenience in the neighbouring country due to the financial inducements associated with the practice which has been defined by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPA) as a human rights violation.

This came out during a recent media field trip to Mohale's Hoek which was organised by the UNFPA and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF). The field trip was part of a media training programme on mainstreaming issues of child protection, gender based violence and migration as well as humanitarian emergencies into broader media coverage.

Lesotho is among several countries in the region that experienced poor harvest due to the El-Nino induced drought. UNFPA Communications officer Violet Maraisane said that it is estimated that at least 500 000 Basotho (a quarter of the population) are food insecure and would need assistance.

Some of the socio-economic challenges stemming from the drought include increasing crime, high rates of school dropouts, early child marriages and teenage pregnancies.

Speaking at the field trip, Mohale's Hoek Police Officer Commanding Sephapho's Border Gate, Sub Inspector Francis Pita said due to the declining pastures and the poor harvests of the 2018/19 agricultural season, livestock farmers who opted to graze their animals in neighbouring South Africa had become victims of stock theft and the impounding of their animals.

Sub Inspector Pita said Basotho nationals took advantage of the porous borders to illegally graze their livestock in South Africa. He said this had created a vicious circle where local and South African farmers stole each other's livestock.

"On this (Lesotho) side there is no veld solely because of the drought and the fact that farmers this side do not practice rotational grazing so they end up stealing or grazing their livestock in the fields of SA farmers," Sub Inspector Pita said.

"Some Basotho steal the livestock in South Africa and others even steal animal feed to come and feed their own livestock."

He said such practices caused problems for local farmers whose livestock were impounded as they were forced to pay fines in the region of M2500 for the release of each cow.

"That is a lot of money and because most families do not have it, they forfeit their animals leading to even more poverty. The story does not end there as some Basotho retaliate by going back to steal from the South Africans and this sometimes leads to bloodshed and death.

"The South Africans also cross over to steal livestock. Sometime in March this year in Ha-Moeketsi, 17 cows were stolen from one family and two weeks later the victim died probably due to depression since most people rely on their livestock to feed their families."

Sub Inspector Pita said due to the frequent droughts, "so many children have become school dropouts who cross into South Africa and enter into marriages of convenience which backfires as they are burdened with children they cannot care for".

UNFPA Communications officer Violet Maraisane subsequently told the Lesotho Times that this was much more than just a farmers' conflict as it also created more humanitarian challenges.

Ms Maraisane said they had conducted a drought assessment which showed that at least 500 000 Basotho were food insecure and would need assistance.

"It is on the basis of this that the UN in Lesotho undertook early action to deliver urgent lifesaving multi-sectoral emergency assistance to severely food insecure households and to address the impacts of drought and erratic rainfall affecting the population in Mohale's Hoek, Maseru, Mafeteng, Quthing and Qacha's Nek districts.

"UN agencies such as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), UNICEF, UNFPA, World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) jointly with national partners, mobilised funds from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to address priority humanitarian needs in nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, agriculture, food security and health," Ms Maraisane said

She said the UN is providing lifesaving multi-sectoral emergency assistance to communities through the CERF-funded project titled, "Provision of life saving protection, gender based violence and psychosocial support to drought affected populations".

"IOM and UNICEF focus on informing the community on protection risks around migration and child protection.

"Child marriages are a human rights violation. Despite laws against it, the practice remains widespread. Globally, one in every five girls is married before reaching the age of 18.

"Child marriages threatens girls' lives and health and it limits their future prospects. Girls pressed into child marriages often become pregnant while still adolescents, increasing the risk of complications in pregnancy or childbirth. These complications are the leading cause of death among older adolescent girls," Ms Maraisane said.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security's Director General for Veterinary Services, Relebohile Mahloane, said although the government worked hard to assist Basotho it was not possible to come to the aid of those who engaged in illegal activities like grazing their livestock in neighbouring South Africa.

Dr Mahloane said local farmers had dismally failed to preserve their own grazing ranges through their failure to implement sustainable grazing practices and this had caused them to be vulnerable to their South African counterparts who impounded their livestock.

"What they (local farmers) are doing (grazing their livestock in South Africa) is illegal and SA farmers leave them to do such acts so they can take advantage of them," Dr Mahloane said.

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