MASERU – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is giving cash assistance to 21,000 vulnerable people in Lesotho’s two districts worst-affected by the El Niño-related drought. This is WFP’s first ever emergency cash relief operation in the Mountain Kingdom.
Under this relief programme, WFP is providing M 1,020 (US$65) each month to 2,000 families in Mohale’s Hoek district and to 2,200 families in Mafeteng district. However, the programme, which began in March, will stop at the end of May unless further funding is secured. WFP needs at least US$13.6 million to continue and scale up its drought relief operation in Lesotho.
Lesotho is one of the countries worst-hit by drought in southern Africa. Assessments indicate that the 2015/16 agricultural season has largely failed. Harsh climactic conditions over recent months depleted most water sources, including rivers and dams, leading to an acute shortage of drinking water and water rationing.
The results of a multi-stakeholder Rapid Drought Assessment conducted in January revealed that 535,000 people in rural areas are experiencing food insecurity and will continue to do so beyond harvest time in June this year. The severity of the drought led to the declaration of a state of drought emergency by Lesotho’s Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili, in December and an appeal for humanitarian assistance in early 5 February.
The drought crisis has yet to attract the levels of funding to meet the needs of those affected including children, people living with HIV and large numbers of subsistence farmers who could not plant crops due to the low rainfall and high temperatures between October and December.
“WFP is providing cash to support families relying solely on farming who are not expecting to harvest anything this year,” said WFP Country Director Mary Njoroge after visiting a Siloe community receiving cash relief in Mohale’s Hoek. “Our intervention also aims to help families not receiving any social assistance and without any real sources of income or productive assets as a result of the drought.”
Mafeteng and Mohale’s Hoek were identified as the districts most impacted by drought. According to the recent Drought Assessment and other studies, the food security situation is likely to worsen later this year and in the early months of 2017.
Working with the Government of Lesotho, WFP conducted a Market Assessment in March which showed that markets are functioning normally despite current high food prices. In such circumstances, a system of cash-based transfers is deemed more appropriate as it allows recipients choice in their purchases of food while invigorating the local economy.
“The major challenge is that the needs are overwhelming,” said Ms. Njoroge. “Harder times lie ahead because many farming families - who constitute 80 percent of the country’s population - have consumed all the food they harvested last year. Food prices are already beyond the reach of many people including some of those in urban areas.”
In rural areas, the price of maize meal has increased by between 30 and 50 percent since December. The high demand for basic food items such as maize meal, pulses, vegetable oil, and salt may trigger further price increases in Lesotho during coming months.
In responding to the drought crisis, WFP is working with partners including the Disaster Management Authority, Word Vision International, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, the Ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation, and Standard Bank through which cash payments are made.
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WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. Each year, WFP assists some 80 million people in around 80 countries.
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