Lesotho status: high vulnerability and low resilience to climate change



MASERU – During her recent budget speech, Minister of finance Dr Rets’elisitsoe Matlanyane announced that the government had set aside M226.6 million to address environmental issues and climate change. Public Eye reporter MATHATISI SEBUSI (PE) had a one-on-one chat with climate change expert and Improving Adaptive Capacity of Vulnerable and Food Insecure Population in Lesotho (IACOV) project Coordinator NKOPO MATSEPE (NM) to find out how Lesotho has been affected by climate change and how the government can approach climate change and environmental issues for better impact.

Matlanyane said: “Recent natural disasters characterised by strong winds, and unpredictable and heavy rainfalls, that have destroyed national infrastructure, particularly roads, is clear evidence that Lesotho is highly vulnerable to climate change. In the same manner, climate change has adversely contributed towards environmental degradation and biodiversity loss. M226.6 million is proposed for environmental and climate change issues. 

“In order to ensure sustainable environmental conservation, the government decided to bring together all departments responsible for environmental protection under one roof. Under the environmental sector, the government will not only protect the environment but will achieve this through jobs and revenue generating initiatives as well as provision of meteorological services to support timely preparatory and response initiatives against natural disasters associated with climate change”.

PE: As a climate change expert, what is your take on the minister’s statement and government’s commitment towards addressing issues of climate change and environmental protection?

NM: The government recognises the adverse effects of climate change and is putting some efforts to strength its capacity to address them. A considerable budget allocation and clustering of line ministries and departments working on climate change and natural resources signals the government’s aspiration for an unprecedented and coordinated approach that directs effective planning and implementation of results oriented, sustainable interventions.

PE: How better can the government approach issues of climate change and environmental protection for better impact?

NM: By securing sufficient resources, including funding.

  1. Community engagement to plan and implement appropriate and sustainable interventions. Recognise, integrate cultural and local knowledge. Learn from best practices that are implemented in similar contexts.

PE: Which areas does the government need to focus mostly on which you believe are of the most important and urgent?

NM: Financing: securing sufficient funding is fundamental to enable implementation of new and upscaling existing techniques to adapt to climate change and curb environmental management challenges.

PE: The minister stated that the government will be bring together all players, departments responsible for environmental protection under one roof. How will that help, considering that IACOV showed concern over climate change and environmental players working in silos?

NM: This direction will address duplication of efforts, enhance synergies and complementarities, and facilitate co-ordinated planning and implementation processes towards greater impact.

PE: Can you please highlight on how this working in silos has restricted desired progress in regard to addressing climate change and environmental issues?

NM: It brings planning fatigue and confusion to the targeted community members and duplication of efforts and concentration of resources in one operational area.

PE: How vulnerable is Lesotho to climate change?

NM: Several assessments including NAPA, LVAC and the Notre Dame-Gain Country Index, provide a reflection on Lesotho’s vulnerability to climate change and other global challenges in combination with its readiness to improve resilience. According to the assessments Lesotho is vulnerable to climate change.

PE: How would you rate the country’s efforts towards addressing climate change issues? Do you think the country is doing enough or it should try harder?

NM: According to the recent common country analysis report, Lesotho is on the right track on “Climate Action” as one of the Sustainable Development Goals. This is in consideration of the prevailing efforts by the government and its partners.

PE: Can you say Basotho are informed on the issues of climate change and environmental protection? Why?

NM: Climate change is a relatively new concept in Lesotho, especially at grassroots levels. As noted in the NAPA (2007), and the Second National Communication to the UNFCCC (2013), a key barrier to implementing climate change adaptation programmes is lack of awareness of the potential impacts of climate change on people’s livelihoods, and of the available adaptation options.

During focus group discussions at community level where IACoV project operates, it is always revealed that some community members are still unaware of climate change and its impacts and often rely on indigenous knowledge, religious beliefs and cultural practices to understand and respond to the changing environment.

However, youth, by virtue of using smart phones and accessing technologically advanced information dissemination tools, have knowledge of climate change and its impact.

PE: How can you say impacts of climate change have affected the country’s food security?

NM: Lesotho has significant national chronic food insecurity, with an estimated 34 percent of households (650,000 people) living below the food security line (US$0.61 per day).

About 25 percent of the total population is undernourished with 33.2 percent of children stunted and 14.8 percent severely stunted.

Over 27 percent of girls and women and 14 percent of boys and men in the 15 – 49 age range are also anaemic. Nationally, the prevalence of global acute malnutrition (GAM) remains at a lower level of 2.8 percent.

However, 89 percent of children aged six to 23 months do not receive a minimum acceptable diet. The country loses slightly more than seven percent of its GDP to chronic malnutrition.

It has been chronically food deficit since the early 1960s, and continues to be a net importer of food to meet basic needs. Recent years have seen increasingly frequent climate events such as recurrent droughts, dry spells, floods and early frost, leading to crop failures, low incomes, and high food prices, with serious consequences on overall food and nutrition security.

PE: What can you say is restricting the government from fully addressing the impacts of climate change?

NM: Lack of sufficient financial resources and sufficient tools to address the root causes to the impact of climate change, socio-economic issues and cultural stereotypes.

PE: How important is it to include youth in climate change and environmental issues?

NM: As stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, every person under the age of 18 has the right to participate in the decision-making processes that impact them. This includes a public forum to express their views on climate change issues as it affects them adversely. Youth can be agents of change and they play a fundamental role to change societal perceptions on climate change.

PE: Can you say Basotho have adapted and are resilient to the impacts of climate change?

NM: The Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN Index) provides a useful summary of a country’s vulnerability to climate change and other global challenges in combination with its readiness to improve resilience.

Lesotho is classified in the upper-left quadrant of the ND-GAIN Matrix, meaning that it has relatively high vulnerability to climate change, combined with relatively low readiness to improve resilience.

The country is ranked 14th most vulnerable and 51st least ready country, out of 181 countries assessed. This indicates a great need for investment and innovations to improve readiness and preparedness for action.

PE: As one of the underdeveloped countries and very vulnerable to climate change, what help is Lesotho getting from developed countries that are the biggest carbon emitters to address the impacts of climate change?

NM: There are several projects on climate change adaptation that are being implemented to strengthen capacity of the government of Lesotho and Basotho to mitigate, anticipate and respond to the multiple hazards aggravated by short, medium to long-term effects of climate change.

These projects are funded through the climate financing stream, that is, Adaptation Fund, and Global Environmental Facility, supported by developed countries as a commitment in the Kyoto protocol that obligates developed countries (relatively producing high carbon emissions) to finance adaptation activities implemented in the least developed countries.

PE: IACOV has been capacitating Basotho on climate change and ensuring that they adapt and become resilient to the impacts of climate change. Please tell us about the successes and challenges IACOV has experienced since the inception of the project?

NM: The IACOV project has since its inception received the buy-in/support from the government of Lesotho. This has facilitated achievements/successes in the implementation of capacity strengthening and system development activities of the project. Thus the project has positively influenced the development of timely and accurate long-term forecasts through the newly introduced python climate predictability tool (PyCPT) from the international research institute of the University of Columbia.

The launch and operationalisation of the national climate change communication strategy to enable a coherent approach that influences social behavioral change on different socio-economic groups in Lesotho marked another huge achievement. The successes of resilient building and asset creation activities that address environmental management challenges while diversifying livelihoods at household and community levels, cannot be undermined.

The key challenges experienced so far include vandalism of the community assets such as rangelands by some members of the communities where the project operates. Thus the project deemed it essential to support the communities in the establishment of by-laws.

PE: Also, please include lessons learned and recommendations.

NM: The project learned that healthy partnerships with stakeholders and communities are important for the achievement of project results. The project has been able to use existing government coordination structures to identify synergies and complementarities between line ministries, development partners, and the private sector to support livelihood interventions that improve the adaptive capacity of the affected population. In IACOV project sites, the private sector (Standard Lesotho Bank) supported the procurement of fruit trees which were planted by community members at household and community levels.

The ineffective use of climate service information to inform sectoral plans by different line ministries motivated a need for national dialogues that will target all stakeholders, including the decision makers and different socio-economic groups. Such dialogues serve as platforms for advocacy for use of climate service information by all ministries and partners for decision-making that will influence social and behavioral change.

PE: What role can Basotho play either individually or collectively to contribute towards addressing the impacts of climate change and environmental protection?

NM: Individually they can learn respect and use climate service information to inform decisions that affect their lives and livelihoods.

Collectively they should plan, implement, upscale and protect climate adaptation and environmental management interventions.

PE: What is climate change in the context of Lesotho and how does it present itself?

NM: The climate of Lesotho is characterised by four distinct seasons with significant fluctuations in temperature and rainfall. In recent decades, the previous climate variability of wide-ranging temperatures, erratic rainfall, heavy rains and mid-season dry spells has become more exaggerated.

PE: How is Lesotho contributing to climate change?

NM: Mainly through mismanagement of natural resources like burning of rangelands, failure to protect wetlands and vegetation cover, and lack of awareness of unsustainable practices that result in widespread land/environmental degradation that is directly and indirectly linked to climate and weather variability.

PE: And what actions does the country have to take to reduce its contribution towards carbon emissions?

NM: Lesotho is among the countries that are not significantly emitting gas. However, the country should promote appropriate planting and caring of trees as they are the best carbon sequester.

Continuous sensitization and education of different socio-economic groups using different platforms is also important.

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