As a result of the 2015/2016 El Niño phenomenon in Southern Africa, Lesotho experienced the worst drought to have hit the country in the last 35 years. It resulted in poor rainfall seasons, decline in recharge of aquifers and springs, loss of livestock and widespread crop failure with massive drops in food production. It forced local communities to resort to negative coping mechanisms, such as reducing meal sizes, non-food expenditures and selling productive assets. During the peak of drought, water shortages affected agricultural activities, industrial production and the normal functioning of schools, hospitals and health centers. Moreover, high stress levels resulting from the negative effects of the drought aggravated the vulnerability of girls and women to gender-based violence (GBV). Structural poverty and competition over scarce natural resources deepened the crisis that resulted in the progressive erosion of communities’ resilience.
On 22 December 2015, the Government of Lesotho (GoL) declared a state of emergency, subsequently adopting a National Emergency Response Plan and appealing the international community for urgent humanitarian assistance. By May 2016, some 477,000 of the country's population of about 2.1 million were classified as being in “survival deficit”, lacking the ability to meet basic food and non-food needs. Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) partners requested USD 52.6 million in response to the governmental appeal, proposing humanitarian interventions in the sectors most impacted by the crisis, including Agriculture and Food Security, Health and Nutrition, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, Protection/GBV and Education. The humanitarian response to the El Niño-induced drought phased out in August 2017, reaching more than 465,000 people. In support of the government activities, HCT partners managed to mobilise a total of USD 40.7 million from international donors for the immediate relief response.
In June 2017, the Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee (LVAC) and partners conducted the first integrated rural and urban Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis (VAA), as well as an Integrated Food Insecurity Phase Classification (IPC) analysis and the regular crop forecasting, assessing food security, agricultural production, nutrition and WASH needs in the ten districts of Lesotho. The results showed a large improvement in food security in comparison to the previous years, forecasting the total national crop production in 2017 as the highest over the past ten years with a total of 239,361 metric tonnes produced. However, the assessment projected a total of 224,664 people in rural areas and 82,278 people in urban areas to be in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) and IPC Phase 4 (Emergency) food insecurity in the period October 2017-March 2018, due to the expected lean season and the concurrent rise in staple prices. The findings also showed that 68.1% of households had adequate water supply through communal taps (52.7%), piped water (26.9%), unprotected springs (9.7%), protected and other sources (4%). The assessment also highlighted that, for children under 5 years of age, the national prevalence of stunting was 36.2% while the Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) was 4.7%.
In March 2018, Lesotho experienced heavy rains, hailstorms and flash floods that severely affected many areas of Quthing, Mafeteng, Mohale’s Hoek and Thaba-Tseka districts. On 14 March, a hailstorm hit 23 villages in Mount Moorosi, Ha Robi (near Sebapala River) and Sixondo, in Quthing district. According to the rapid assessment undertaken by the Disaster Management Authority (DMA), at least 1,418 people (314 households) were impacted by the disaster, including one person killed and dozens of children and adults injured by the golf-ball-sized hailstones. Many animals were also reportedly killed. Furthermore, the hailstorm damaged hundreds of houses, vehicles, roads along with five schools and one health centre. Various summer crops (maize, beans, sorghum, etc.) from a total of 258 acres were also destroyed. Heavy rains also led to a series of significant flash floods in the four mentioned districts. On 14 March, a truck was washed away by an overflowing river near Mount Moorosi in Quthing district, killing 4 people. Similarly, on 22 March, a minibus was swept away while crossing Linakeng River in Thaba-Tseka district, killing 7 people. In addition, many houses and public infrastructures were destroyed by heavy rains in Mafeteng and Mohale’s Hoek districts. The rapid assessment estimated a total damage of LSL 4.07 million (around USD 346,000) following the hailstorm which comprised of LSL 2.8 million (around USD 238,000) related to damage on property and LSL 1.27 million (around US$ 108,000) of damage on crops. HCT under the leadership of the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator liaised closely with the national authorities and DMA, to provide any support required to address the humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable households, including orphans and vulnerable children, elderly and disabled persons.
According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), the above-mentioned climatic anomalies followed a 55-70% below normal cumulative rainfall performance recorded in the period September 2017-January 2018 which had already led to significant moisture deficits in key cropping areas of the country. Furthermore, the latest crop assessment undertaken by the Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee (LVAC) in February-March 2018 confirmed that a below-average crop production was expected for the upcoming harvest compared to the previous year, due to the delayed rains and unexpected snow, frost, extreme temperatures (high and low) and a dry spell recorded in the considered period. Based on the aforesaid, a Joint UN-DMA Field Visit to the communities affected by these climatic shocks was undertaken on 18-19 April 2018, to adequately understand the cumulative effects of the erratic rains, climatic occurrences and hazards in the short, medium and long term in different sectors.
The findings of the 2018 VAA/IPC conducted by LVAC in May-June 2018 indicated that the number of people in need of assistance increased compared to last year and it is projected to be around 18% of the rural population and 9.2% of the urban population during the next lean season (Sept 2018 - Feb 2019). The total cereal forecast foresees a drastic reduction (- 65%) compared to last year’s production, mainly due to late onset of rains and late planting, below-normal rainfall, unseasonal snowfall, extreme temperatures, flash floods and hailstorms experienced in the period September 2017 - March 2018. Staple price decreased by 33% compared to last year, but remained 200% higher compared to the reference year (2008/09). In the current period (July-August 2018), all the districts are classified in IPC Phase 2 (Stressed) while in the projected period (Sept 2018 to Feb 2019), Mohale’s Hoek, Qacha’s Nek and Quthing are classified in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) while the other districts will remain in IPC Phase 2 (Stressed).
The findings also showed that the majority of households have adequate water supply through communal taps (52%), private borehole (29%), protected springs (5%) and unprotected sources (8%). Moreover, 83% of households are using improved sanitation, showing an increase from the previous year. Nonetheless, some of the districts have a high percentage of households using unprotected water sources. The assessment also highlighted that, for children under 5 years of age, the national prevalence of stunting is 35% while the prevalence of wasting is 3.5%.
According to the latest Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) - Lesotho Remote Monitoring Update, the most likely ENSO phase for October 2018 to January 2019 is El Niño, but there is some uncertainty in this forecast, particularly regarding Indian Ocean SSTs. Based on the El Niño forecast, below-average rainfall is the most likely outcome during the early portion of the Southern Africa rainy season between October 2018 to January 2019. In this regard, the upcoming annual Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF-22) to be held in August 2018 will provide further details regarding the outlook for the 2018/2019 rainfall season over the SADC region.