El Niño – helping the people of Lesotho withstand the challenges of climate change

Project completed
Altext: Two experts and a local farmer in a drought-ravaged cornfield.
Many farmers in Lesotho could do nothing but watch the damage caused by the drought resulting from El Niño. © WFP ©

El Niño signifies unprecedented climate catastrophe for the countries of southern Africa. The drought has destroyed millions of hectares of farmland and the population of an entire region faces the threat of food insecurity. Lesotho was the first country to raise the alarm. The SDC has released a million Swiss francs to support the operations of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) which also benefits from the provision of Swiss experts. 

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Humanitarian Assistance & DRR
Emergency food assistance
01.07.2016 - 31.12.2016
CHF  1’000’000

Several countries have been severely affected by the climate phenomenon known as El Niño since the end of 2015 like the states of southern Africa. The entire region has suffered major droughts destroying millions of hectares of farmland. This has caused agricultural output to plummet and has left millions of people threatened by food insecurity. 

In December 2015, the government of Lesotho became the first in the region to declare a state of emergency. The small country, which has a population of just over two million, was already experiencing acute problems as rainfall was at its lowest level since 2013. The decline in local production has seen food prices rise by up to 60%. Imported fruit and vegetables have become unaffordable for over half the population who live below the poverty line. The arrival of El Niño has left over 700,000 people in Lesotho facing food insecurity and almost half in need of emergency aid.    

A response aimed at dealing with the immediate situation and preparing for future shocks

In response to this unprecedented crisis and to prevent the risk of famine, the SDC has released a million Swiss francs to support the operations of the UN’s WFP in Lesotho. The UN agency is focusing its efforts on two fronts – providing emergency aid to alleviate the most urgent needs and adopting measures to increase the resilience of people facing future shocks.

Immediate aid is provided by distributing food or money. In the case of the latter, the WFP distributes 60 dollars a month per household. This amount is calculated based on market analysis and allows families to sustain themselves in line with their nutritional habits. Up to 21,000 people have received immediate cash assistance since March 2016 in Mohale’s Hoek and Mafeteng, two parts of Lesotho severely hit by the drought.

At the same time the WFP has launched a programme aiming to provide gainful employment for farmers who have lost their harvests or cannot work on their land. It seeks to involve them in building small hydropower dams, irrigation systems or other installations that will allow them to deal with future climate shocks.

The response to El Niño is part of a much wider WFP framework of activities in Lesotho. The UN agency has been working alongside the government since 2013 to provide food for pre-school and primary school pupils. It also delivers food aid to particularly vulnerable sections of the population, such as carriers of the HIV/AIDS virus (the country has a 25% prevalence rate which is amongst the highest in the world).