By Mamonehela Masupha, Lesotho Red Cross Society volunteer

Sebongile is pregnant with her second child. Her first, a 17-month-old boy, still cannot walk. She lives alone in an old house in drought-stricken Lesotho, and is not working. Her mother has a job in neighbouring South Africa and comes home to help whenever she can. But for the most part, Sebongile is alone, relying on the generosity of others to cope with the lack of food.

Asked how she is surviving the drought that has affected more than 700,000 people, the 22-year-old replies, “Only God knows. It is God who brought the Red Cross to me, to give me the food that I am eating today with my son.”

Sebongile says the yellow maize meal which is not very popular with other people is tasty, so much so that she will sometimes eat it without vegetables.

“I am so thankful for the food, especially because here at home we don’t even have fields. I used to get part-time jobs in other people’s fields but now there is nothing in the fields and that means we all starve,” Sebongile says sadly, adding that the food support she is receiving means she can stop asking others, including relatives, for help.

Drought emergency

In December 2015, the Government of Lesotho declared a drought emergency. Due to consecutive failed rains, maize production, a staple in the country, has dropped by 70 per cent. The Lesotho Red Cross Society began implementing relief operations in February, assessing who was most vulnerable in the three districts of Mafeteng, Qacha’sNek and Thaba Tseka. The assessments were followed by verification and now food distribution.

For two months, staff and volunteers distributed food, including maize meal, cooking oil and pulses, to 9,000 people across the three districts. They then switched to mobile cash transfers for four months as a means of empowering families to decide for themselves what food they would like to purchase. “It is believed that 550.00 Maloti ($38 US dollars) will be sufficient for a month’s supply of food for each household,” said Makula Maine, disaster management coordinator, Lesotho Red Cross Society. “They will also receive vegetable seeds and gardening tools after which we are hoping the weather will change to enable farmers to go back to their fields.”

In January 2016, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched an emergency appeal of 736,000 Swiss francs to reach 9,000 people with immediate food supplies, and a focus on strengthening livelihoods. The appeal, which lasts through December 2016, is currently 82 per cent funded.