With one of the worst droughts in 30 years ravaging Lesotho, the United Nations has launched a $18.9 million flash appeal for the small Southern African kingdom where it is estimated that up to 553,000 people – one in four of the population – could face severe hunger. Maize production, the country’s main staple, has dropped by 51 per cent compared to last year, a deficit that is likely to be further aggravated by decreased cereal production in parts of South Africa, also suffering from below-average rainfall, which supplies some 70 per cent of Lesotho’s food requirements. “While the immediate concern is food assistance to food-insecure households, there is an urgent need to restore their productive capacity in order to facilitate prompt recovery,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in an update over the weekend. “External assistance is urgently needed to allow poor households to resume their crop production activities for the upcoming 2007/2008 agricultural season; if this is not provided by October 2007, the planting season will be missed and food insecurity will extend another year,” it added. The drought will further worsen the already precarious situation of acute poverty and food security in Lesotho, OCHA stressed. The most vulnerable have depleted their food reserves and due to rising prices are not able to replenish them, while the lack of job opportunities will create a surplus of people looking for unskilled labour, thus driving wages down. Wasting in children under five has surpassed the international threshold of 5 per cent for declaring a situation of concern, reaching 6 per cent this year from 2.4 per cent in 2006. An estimated 30 per cent of boreholes and wells for potable water have dried up, as have many small dam reservoirs on which livestock and gardens depend. As part of its own national emergency response, the Government has allocated $119 million, of which $12 million to large cash-for-work projects through land reclamation, and $6 million to agricultural activities. “Additional humanitarian assistance, both national and international, is greatly needed to take the most vulnerable through to the next harvest expected in late May 2008,” OCHA said. Within the framework of the flash appeal, the international community has identified key priority needs to be covered over the next six months in agriculture, early recovery, food, health, nutrition, protection and water and sanitation. Just last week, OCHA launched $15.6 million flash appeal for nearby and equally drought-stricken Swaziland. 30 July 2007With one of the worst droughts in 30 years ravaging Lesotho, the United Nations has launched a $18.9 million flash appeal for the small Southern African kingdom where it is estimated that up to 553,000 people – one in four of the population – could face severe hunger.