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 emergencies.

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 households."

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)


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