AT least 71 000 out of the half a million food insecure Basotho are "one step away from famine", the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has said.
OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke said as a result, OCHA has launched a US$34 million flash appeal for funds to urgently support 260 000 food insecure Basotho with life-saving interventions up until April 2020.
A flash appeal is issued in the event of major disasters which require a coordinated response which is beyond the capacity of a single government or single UN agency or non-governmental organisation to respond. It includes an analysis of the disaster situation along with specific sectoral response plans to address acute humanitarian needs, usually for a period of up to six months.
Mr Laerke said the US$34 million flash appeal was necessary to support 260 000 food insecure people.
He said the flash appeal was being issued on the back of the government of Lesotho's 30 October 2019 declaration of a national disaster and consequent call for financial and material assistance to address the food insecurity. Mr Laerke said due to the drought, overall cereal production decreased by more than 60 percent compared to 2018, thus contributing to the food insecurity.
However, the US$34 million is not enough to cater for the needs of all Basotho because according to Mr Laerke, a total of half a million people- which is more than a quarter of the population of Lesotho- are facing severe food insecurity due to poor harvests in the 2019 agricultural season.
"The UN Team and humanitarian partners is launching a US$34 million flash appeal- this one-to urgently support over 260 000 people with life-saving interventions up until April," Mr Laerke recently said in Geneva, Switzerland.
"A total of half a million people- which is more than a quarter of the population of Lesotho- are facing severe food insecurity because of severe drought which has gripped the country at the same time as people are approaching the peak of the lean season.
"Overall cereal production decreased by more than 60 percent compared to 2018. The government of Lesotho on 30 October 2019 declared a national disaster and issued a drought response and resilience plan. Our flash appeal will support that plan.
"Most of the food insecure people are in rural areas and we estimate that at the peak of the lean season, which runs from January to March, some 71 000 people will face emergency conditions in rural districts. That is Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) phase 4- one step away from famine."
An October 2019 UN report put the number of rural Basotho who will be in need of 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 winter 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."
Similarly, Mr Laerke warns that women and young girls are more susceptible to sexual exploitation and abuse due to the food insecurity.
"One particular concern (with the food insecurity) is that it makes particularly women and children, girls in particular very vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse," Mr Laerke recently said.
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 ABC is the hardest-hit biggest because of the bitter feud between Dr Thabane and his party deputy, Professor Nqosa Mahao, which threatens to tear apart the ABC and even collapse the government.
Largely as a result of the infighting, 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, doctors and police officers in recent months. The magistrates and doctors have even sued the government for salary increments and improved working conditions. 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.