BEREA-‘Mantsoaki Rakotsi forces a spoonful of porridge into the mouth of her crying 14-month-old daughter Blessing, but the infant is clearly not interested in the food as she promptly spits it out.
“Unlike her twin sister, she does not like this maize-meal porridge. I don’t know what else to give her since I do not have breast milk because of stress and poor diet,” says Ms Rakotsi.
“My child’s health is worsening but I have no money to buy the right food recommended by nurses at St Immaculate Clinic,” Ms Rakotsi explains.
St Immaculate Clinic in Liphokoaneng village, Berea district, has referred the child to Berea Hospital for free treatment, but Ms Rakotsi says she cannot make the trip due to lack of funds for her own upkeep while the child undergoes treatment.
The 35-year-old unemployed single mother lives in Ha-Matumo village with her twin daughters. She used to work in a factory in Maputsoe but lost the job when she was seven months pregnant due. She is not sure what the future holds and had hoped to focus on farming this summer—only for the prevailing drought to ruin her hopes of growing maize to eat and also for sale in order to buy other basic necessities.
The twin girls are usually fed maize-meal porridge for breakfast, and for lunch and supper, they share, with their mother, the staple food papa (thick maize-meal porridge) served with either vegetables or soup.
Blessing only weighs 5.7 kilogrammes and cannot walk while her sister also shows that she needs nutrition support.
Rethabile Kori, a nurse at St Immaculate Clinic, confirms both children are in need of nutrition assistance, adding, Blessing shows signs of severe malnutrition, which include poor appetite, thinning hair and a swelling face.
Ms Kori explains in recent months, the clinic has identified several children from surrounding villages who also need food assistance.
“Many families here cannot afford buying food and depend on the food they grow in their fields and gardens. At the moment, there is not much cultivation because of lack of rainfall and many families are struggling. They risk suffering from malnutrition-related ailments,” Ms Kori said.
To make matters worse, Kori says due to the scarcity of potable water, the clinic each day attends more than five cases of waterborne-related diseases such as diarrhoea.
A Village Health Worker in Ha Matumo community, Malepekula Hlehlethe says although she is tasked to educate residents about good child-feeding practices, it is difficult for her to get people’s attention when they are struggling for food.
“We have many poor households headed by single mothers. They are finding it hard to provide their children with a decent meal on a daily basis,” said Ms Hlehlethe.
Ms Hlehlethe is now focusing on providing education on the importance of drinking boiled water to at least prevent waterborne diseases.
The current El Niño-induced drought has dried up most rivers in Berea district, forcing some residents to depend on unprotected sources of water while others walk long distances to access clean borehole water. According to the Lesotho Meteorological Services, the country is experiencing its worst drought conditions since 1972. This adverse climate has completely paralysed cropping activities throughout the country with livestock also bearing the brunt of the drought. According to the Disaster Management Authority (DMA), over 650 000 people will need food assistance in 2016 and these will include urbanites who are going to struggle to cope with increasing food prices.
On 22 December 2015, the Government of Lesotho declared a state of drought emergency and appealed for assistance from the international community. In its National Response Plan, Lesotho needs M584 million (USD 37 million) for the country’s drought-relief activities in 2016.
Although vulnerable people living with HIV will also be targeted in the response plan, what worries patients like 39-year-old ‘Makholu Sekake of Ha-Malibeng village in Berea is whether food assistance would come on time. Lesotho has the second highest HIV-prevalence in the world at 23 percent.
A mother of five, Ms Sekake and her husband were benefiting from the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) food assistance which ended in August 2015 due to lack of funding. The family survives on subsistence farming while Ms Sekake’s husband, Thabang, also works in other people’s fields during cropping seasons.
“There are no farming jobs at the moment; we have also lost all the maize we planted a few weeks ago,” Ms Sekake says.
She also says due to the food problem, the couple sometimes goes to bed hungry and they don’t take their medication should that happen.
“Only the children can eat when we have little food in the house. It is only God who knows what will become of us if we do not receive normal rain this season,” says Ms Sekake.
The Deputy Country Director for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Lesotho, Mr Arduino Mangoni says in 2016, the largest humanitarian agency against hunger will resume nutrition support activities targeting 39,250 people. These will include children under the age of two, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, vulnerable patients on antiretroviral therapy and TB treatment and the families of vulnerable HIV patients.
“We had to suspend our nutrition and resilience building activities in August due to lack of funding. In view of the drought, we are currently mobilising resources to immediately start providing various forms of assistance,” says Mr Mangoni.
He further said because of two successive crop failures and the current drought, community needs have increased and would continue on an upward trend in 2016 and 2017.
Mr Mangoni says funds permitting, WFP will roll-out various interventions to mitigate the multiplying effects of the drought.
“The severity of the drought is increasing the number of people who will need food and nutrition assistance and also the support to rebuild their livelihoods,” says Mr Mangoni.
“It is important for us to step up our collaboration with partners, including the Government of Lesotho, in developing the capacity of communities frequently affected by climatic hazards. This will enable such communities to withstand extreme weather conditions such as the current El Niño–induced drought.”
In 2015, WFP provided specialised nutrition food to 10, 959 vulnerable people on antiretroviral therapy and Tuberculosis treatment. To support the prevention of stunting, WFP Lesotho provided nutrition assistance to 9621 pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and 19323 children. Under resilience building activities, WFP assisted with food and cash, 20250 vulnerable people in the drought-prone districts of Mafeteng and Mohale’s Hoek.
About El Niño
El Niño is a periodic climatic phenomenon characterised by inadequate rain in some parts of the world and floods in others.
Under El Niño, parts of South America experience heavy rainfall, while dry conditions prevail in Australia, south-east Asia and southern Africa. El Niño used to occur in varying degrees of severity after every five years, but since the 1990s, has become more frequent due to global warming.
Lesotho is expected to experience the worst effects of the drought between 20 December 2015 and 20 January 2016.