MASERU – Over 40 percent of young people aged 15 to 24 in Lesotho are looking for employment but cannot find any job, according to the latest figures released by the World Food Programme (WFP). The irrelevance of programmes offered by institutions of higher learning, employability of graduates, and the skills mismatch are widely cited as major causes of high youth unemployment. This depicts the story of a generation of young people whose education is no longer a fundamental key to success, as pathways from education systems to economic systems have apparently been broken.
High unemployment could lead to risky sexual behaviours that expose young women in particular, to sexual exploitation, early and unplanned pregnancy, HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The Global Report on Food Crises, produced by the WFP and 15 other humanitarian and development partners and released on Tuesday this week, shows that half of Lesotho population lives in poverty, rising to 61 percent or 801 000 people in rural areas.
“Some 31 percent of rural Basotho live in extreme poverty. Unemployment is estimated at 28 percent overall and 43 percent among youths aged 15–24,” reads the new report on food crises around the world. It shows that from June to October last year, labour opportunities during the harvest were limited by the poor crop performance. Other earning opportunities such as construction and domestic work, also decreased as many households allocated their limited incomes to food rather that hiring casual labourers.
WFP warned on Tuesday as it released the report that the COVID-19 pandemic could almost double the number of people suffering acute hunger by the end of 2020 unless swift action is taken. “COVID-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are already hanging by a thread,” WFP’s senior economist, Arif Husain, said. “It is a hammer blow for millions more who can only eat if they earn a wage. Lockdowns and the global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs. It only takes one more shock – like COVID-19 – to push them over the edge. We must collectively act now to mitigate the impact of this global catastrophe,” Husain added.
Prime Minister Thomas Thabane on Tuesday extended the lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus by two weeks to May 5. The lockdown, which started at midnight on March 29, and was due to last for 23 days, is one of the toughest measures imposed by government to curb the spread of virus which has infected over 2.6 million people worldwide.
It has killed over 185,000 people while over 720,000 have recovered. Thabane last week announced measures to support businesses and the vulnerable people affected by the lockdown. On April 14, the Monetary Policy Committee of the Central Bank of Lesotho (CBL) indicated that given measures put in place to stem the virus outbreak, the domestic economy was set to suffer a major blow from the epidemic. The committee said growth was expected to fall by 3.1 percent.
“The key sectors that are likely to be affected are mining with a decline of 13.4 percent, construction with 10.2 percent decline and textiles with a 14 percent decline. These developments are expected to have a significant negative impact on employment,” it said. Critics point out that the M500 million relief fund Thabane announced last week did not say anything about young people, in particular, who were unemployed before the coronavirus crisis and do not receive any form of social grant.
But Minister of Sports, Gender and Youth, Dr Mahali Phamotse, yesterday shot down such criticism. Phamotse told Public Eye that many young people are going to benefit from the announced raft of government measures to protect the vulnerable groups such as children, women, people with disabilities, the elderly and the informal sector as well as to build resilience and strengthen the capacity of the private sector.
The relief fund will, among others, subsidise salaries of 45,000 factory workers by up to M800 for three months. “The majority of factory workers are young people. The government has also announced that it is going to support small informal businesses and a majority of these businesses are owned by women and young people. Most of the street vendors are young people,” Phamotse said.
She indicated that on top of the measures to support the vulnerable and informal businesses during the coronavirus induced crisis, there was youth apprenticeship and public works programmes which she said were continuing despite the crisis. Presenting the budget speech for the 2020/2021 financial year in parliament in February, Finance Minister, Dr Moeketsi Majoro, said over 15,500 graduates and 87,000 young people without tertiary qualifications had registered for the apprenticeship programme.
Majoro said the graduates were dominated by two disciplines, namely; teaching and administration or management professions. “We estimate that the actual numbers are much higher because many youths have approached the ministry indicating that they did not know about it or thought that registration was politically motivated,” said Majoro in February.
Phamotse yesterday encouraged young people to continue registering for the programme. In South Africa, for example, president Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Tuesday this week that unemployed citizens will get R350 per month for the next six months – the first benefit of its kind in that country. Some 10 million South Africans could be entitled to the so-called COVID-19 Social relief or Distress Grant, but it will not be enough to prevent hunger as South Africa’s food poverty line is R561 a month.