|September 11, 2002
Food Crisis in Lesotho
UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Caroline McAskie urged donors in the
beginning of September to help Lesotho overcome a food crisis that affects
one-in-five of the country's people. "There is no doubt there is a
short-term crisis," McAskie said. "The short-term needs are there, and we
need to encourage the donors to be active."
McAskie visited Lesotho on Tuesday, September 3, as part of a regional
assessment mission to six southern African countries faced with food
Approximately 445,000 people in the tiny kingdom are in need of assistance
following two consecutive poor harvests. Due to heavy rains that reduced the
area planted by 60 percent, cereal production this year was one-third lower
than last year's disappointing yield.
A UN Children's Fund nutritionist, Diane Bosch, said that Lesotho faced an
"invisible emergency". In the rural areas, well-constructed houses built
from remittances from family members working in South Africa's mines, hid
the fact that inside the homes was serious hunger. "It's not a question of
no food, people just can't access it because there is no money," she said.
"People are poor, HIV/AIDS has led to an enormous increase in child-headed
According to UNAIDS figures, 31 percent of Lesotho's adult are HIV-positive,
which has deepened the impact of the food crisis. Retrenchment in South
African mines in recent years has also robbed households of income, with
returning miners finding little more than unemployment and poverty. "The
acute problems you saw in Ethiopia [during the 1984 famine] with skeleton
children you don't have here, but we definitely have a problem and there is
definitely malnutrition," Bosch said. The situation was particularly bad in
Lesotho's mountain regions, with the lowlands less affected, she added.
The World Food Programme (WFP) began distributing food aid last month to
three out of Lesotho's 10 districts. By September, it would be providing
food to five more districts at risk. The government, which started its
deliveries earlier, had also "put in a lot of food", WFP's deputy country
director, Viney Jain, said.
Jain said WFP had received firm commitments from donors for 40 percent of
the 147,000 mt of food aid needed to keep people from starving until next
year's harvest. According to Bosch, recent vulnerability assessments
indicated "we have caught the disaster in time", but continued success
depended on uninterrupted government and WFP distributions.
Meanwhile, Lesotho's small farmers have urged the Lesotho government to
promote sustainable agriculture through the use of indigenous farming
methods and indigenous seeds as against the use of genetically modified
organisms. The urge was made by the small farmers in a declaration made at
the end of the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development held in
Johannesburg, South Africa.
The small farmers demanded a clear policy on sustainable agriculture that
promoted indigenous farming methods and seeds that were suitable to the
conditions in Lesotho and that was in line with the participatory ecological
land use and management. The farmers called upon the government to ban the
import and dumping of genetically modified organisms, as they were hazardous
to the lives of consumers and the environment. (IRIN / MOPHEME/THE SURVIVOR)