…emergency food assistance needed to ward off starvation

THOUSANDS FACE HUNGER IN RURAL VILLAGES

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU –
One out of every eight people in rural Lesotho go to bed hungry and are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. This is because even in good harvests the country does not produce enough food to meet national needs. The SADC Regional Vulnerability and Assessment and Analysis (RVAA) synthesis report on state of food and nutrition security and vulnerability in Southern Africa shows that about 18 percent of the country’s rural population or 257 200 people face the danger of going hungry.

The report was compiled from information presented by the national vulnerability assessment committees at the RVAA annual dissemination forum that was held in Maseru from July 2, to July 5. The report was published last Friday. It noted that “this year the rainfall season was delayed” in Lesotho. “Unseasonal snowfall, extreme cold temperatures and frost experienced in November 2017 damaged early planted crops. Other parts of the country received localised hailstorms and flash floods in march 2018, which also damaged crops,” it read.

A further 257 200 Basotho are on the verge of hunger, according to the report. It stated that: “From May to August 2018, 154 00 will be in Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Phase three and 7 200 in IPC Phase four. This is expected to increase from September 2018 to February 2019 to 216 000 people in IPC Phase Three and 41 200 in IPC Phase Four.”

IPC phase three signifies acute food and livelihood crisis while phase four represents humanitarian emergency. In the 2017/2018 year, Lesotho’s food insecure population was 306 942 and increased by one percent to this year’s 308 966. The RVAA report also identified food insecurity as a critical barrier to adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART) and retention in care among Human Immune Virus (HIV) and Tuberculosis (TB) infected adults, HIV infected pregnant women and their HIV exposed infants.

It said there was a growing evidence that links food and nutrition security with increase in health seeking behaviour, adherence to HIV and TB treatment, reduction in morbidity, prevention of transmission among adolescent girls and reduction in mortality among people living with HIV/AIDS.

An estimated 330 000 people out of the two million population were living with HIV in 2016. In the same year, 9 900 people died from AIDS-related illnesses. The United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in November 2017 indicated that Lesotho was one of the highest HIV prevalent countries in the world.

UNICEF said the high prevalence of HIV and AIDS “accounts for more than 40 percent of all deaths in Lesotho”. These figures have been rubberstamped by this recent RVAA report. “Eswatini has the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world followed by Lesotho with 25 percent and Botswana 18.5 percent,” the report said.

It further indicated that the high food prices in the region and an overall economic downturn in many countries add another layer of complexity leading to a negative coping strategies for people living with HIV/AIDS. “In resource-limited settings, where food insecurity affects many households, people are more vulnerable to high-risk sexual behaviour that may increase the risk of HIV transmission.”

It recommended that members states should invest in community mobilization to improve access to HIV testing, prevention and treatment services, and promote adherence to treatment. “In addition, synergies with other development sectors – including education, health, social protection and gender equality – will help improve HIV outcomes.”

The report also revealed that more than three in 10 children (33 percent) in Lesotho are stunted. Childhood stunting refers to the significant impairment of a child’s growth; that child is short in relation to peers in their population and age groups of malnutrition of the child or the mother when she was pregnant or chronic disease.

Stunting affects cognitive and mental abilities. Word Health organisation (WHO) says “stunting is a well-established risk marker of poor child development”. According to WHO, stunting before the age of two years predicts poorer cognitive and educational outcomes in later childhood and adolescence, and has significant educational and economic consequences at the individual, household and community levels.

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