MASERU – The United Nations (UN) aims to secure food for an estimated 480 000 of the one million Basotho projected to be food insecure across the country as a result of COVID-19 effects. To address drought and the anticipated food insecurity in the country, the government has budgeted US$81 million (about M1.3 billion) while the UN and other development partners will assist with US$33.7 million. The July 13 UN COVID-19 Situation Update Report from the office of the Resident Co-ordinator in Lesotho, Salvator Niyonzima, in collaboration with humanitarian partners says. The report notes that COVID-19 pandemic has directly, and and adversely, affected the economic and food security situation of the country.
“Lesotho’s economy has plummeted; the crisis worsened by the closure of border crossings, reduced internal movements, and reduced remittances due to the global economic slowdown, all these factors likely to impact people’s overall well-being. “According to the crop assessment conducted in April, 2020, the current food insecure population as per Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee (LVAC) 2019 results was estimated at 433 410 rural and 74 715 urban. “The number of food insecure households from the rural population is likely to increase from 433 410 to 720 000 taking into consideration the number of migrants returning from South Africa, a decline in agricultural labour opportunities, and the loss of remittances following the lockdown,” reads the report.
It also notes that the number of food insecure households in the urban areas is likely to increase from 74 715 to 179 287 with the inclusion of people who have lost their usual income. The report further indicates over a million people (49.7 percent of Lesotho’s population) live below the national poverty line and face chronic food insecurity and hunger. One-third (33 percent) of children under 5 years of age are stunted while neonatal, infant, and under-5 mortality remain high. According to the LVAC, the food insecure population has increased from 500 000 to 750 000.
In October, 2019, the Lesotho government declared a drought emergency in the country due to the late onset of rains to address the needs of the drought-affected; the UN in Lesotho, along with the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) members launched a flash appeal of US$33.7 million in the sectors of health, WASH, nutrition, food security, livelihoods protection, and education. According to the report, in response to food insecurity in the country, the WFP completed March cycle distributions for the emergency drought intervention programmes reaching 80 320 beneficiaries with vital food assistance with the support of UN donors and partners such as the European Union and Central Emergency Response Fund.
It also notes that WFP also undertook double distributions for the months of April and May and, as a result, over 68 690 people were assisted across four districts with a combination of cash and commodity vouchers redeemable at local retailers. “To support the food-insecure urban population, WFP will complement the government’s horizontal expansion of social protection safety net (Public Assistance) outlined in the government’s policy statement in response to COVID-19 which includes targeting vulnerable children, the elderly, people with disabilities and those in the informal sector.
Up to “4 250 vulnerable households in urban areas (17 000 beneficiaries) for 3 months (May-July 2020) will be targeted within the Mohale’s Hoek, Mafeteng, Quthing and Qacha’s Nek districts. The targeted households will be provided with US$55 per month so that they can meet basic household needs,” the report says. It further points out that 43 percent of healthcare facilities globally lack hand hygiene at the point of care where doctors and nurses are treating patients, and only 55 percent of healthcare facilities in least-developed countries have basic water services. The practice of hand hygiene in Lesotho is very limited with only 18 percent of the population in Lesotho washing their hands with soap and water frequently, the report warns.
WASH is a key preventative measure in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and is one of the principal public health recommendations in Lesotho. COVID-19 poses detrimental impacts on WASH service provision and sustainability as the country is emerging from drought which extensively affected water supplies. It reports that the COVID-19 pandemic aggravated the health, WASH, protection, nutrition and food security situation of the drought-affected people in Lesotho. “In May 2020, Lesotho registered its first confirmed case of COVID-19 and as of today, Lesotho has reported 245 cases. The country is already implementing some public health interventions aimed at prevention and control of the disease,” notes the report.