Thousands in Lesotho ‘one step away from famine’ as drought impacts harvests and UN launches flash appeal

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Devastating drought in the southern African nation of Lesotho has left more than half a million people facing severe food shortages and tens of thousands “one step away from famine”, UN humanitarians said on Friday, in an appeal for funds.

The $34 million flash appeal will support more than 260,000 people “with lifesaving interventions” until April next year, Jens Laerke from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told journalists in Geneva.

Most of the food insecure people are in rural areas and we estimate that at the peak of the lean season, which runs from January to March, some 71,000 people will face emergency conditions in rural districts. That is IPC phase 4 – one step away from famine,” the spokesperson added.

Ten districts in the small landlocked southern African nation are already “severely food insecure”, according to OCHA, with rural smallholders worst-hit.

Increasingly, women and girls “have reportedly left their rural homes to urban areas or South Africa in search of work, mostly as domestic workers trading sex for money or food” it warned.

One worry linked to this migration is that Lesotho has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world, at more than one in four people.

“It makes particularly women and children, girls in particular, very vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse,” Mr. Laerke said.

The most vulnerable are in Leribe and Maseru districts.

According to OCHA, food insecurity levels are 64 per cent higher than last year, when the number of food insecure people was around 309,000 (257,283 in rural areas, 51,683 in urban zones).

Highlighting the catastrophic impact of the extreme weather on harvests, Mr. Laerke said that overall cereal production had decreased by more than 60 per cent compared to 2018.

Individual crops have suffered even greater losses, such as maize and sorghum, which respectively saw reductions of 78 and 93 per cent.

The UN appeal aims to conduct awareness-raising sessions and distribute life-saving information materials about risks of irregular migration, gender-based violence, violence against children, child marriage, trafficking in persons and how to report abuse.

Lesotho’s $83 million Drought Response and Resilience Plan aims to help more than 508,000 people, including 68,250 children.

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