Drought hits fam­i­lies hard

Lesotho Times - - Feature - ‘Makatleho Mo­hapi

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 maize­meal 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.

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