Zakaria Pulumo’s house overlooks scenic valleys and horizons, in Ha Lebele Village. And, even with the vegetation suffering the consequences of drought, the landscape of this part of Mafeteng district remains attractive. But 54-year-old Pulumo has more pressing necessities than the picturesque scenery.
Hygiene has been one of the community’s major challenges: due to lack of proper toilets, many local residents have had to resort to open defecation. They have also struggled to gain access to clean water, and to keep waterborne diseases at bay.
“For many years, I walked 3km daily to fetch water,” explains Pulumo. “As the water was not clean, many people died of waterborne diseases in this village.”
These conditions were recently compounded by one of the worst droughts in decades, which has damaged the country’s food security. Thousands of people in Lesotho still require food aid. In addition, with one of the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world, the ongoing food insecurity has complicated the fight against the disease. About 23 per cent of the population lives with the virus, according to UNAIDS.
The recent drought has also had a crippling effect on the country’s economy, mainly due to an increase in food prices.
It is against this unsettling backdrop that the President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Mr Tadateru Konoé, travelled to Lesotho, to urge the government and humanitarian partners to further invest in community-level preparedness and resilience.
“Unless proactive measures are taken to strengthen the ability to better respond to the effects of these recurrent droughts, the resilience of communities will continue to weaken,” said Mr Konoé.
It is a complex nexus of problems. The drought has led to food insecurity, which in turn has exacerbated the HIV/AIDS crisis, as people living with the virus do not recover properly when they don’t have enough to eat.
“You cannot succeed medically when the body is not properly fed. For an HIV/AIDS patient who is not eating well, medicine fails as the body is not strong enough,” Mr Nyapana Kaya, Minister of Health for Lesotho, told President Konoé.
Mr Konoé visited Lesotho between 26 and 29 September. He met with King Letsie III and Queen Masenate, as well as the country’s Minister of Health and the leadership of Lesotho Red Cross Society to discuss ways of adopting a proactive response to the endless cycle of droughts by building the resilience of vulnerable communities.
In Ha Lebele village, Mafeteng district, Mr Konoé visited a community that had been affected by lack of proper water and sanitation systems, until Lesotho Red Cross launched a water, sanitation and hygiene project. Through the initiative, 650 latrines and 22 water supply systems have been built so far.
Pulumo is one of the people who have benefited from this Red Cross project. He no longer has to walk 3km to look for water. He now has a water tap next to his home, and tippy-taps within his homestead. He also has a professionally-built pit latrine.
“The number of deaths has gone down due to a decrease in waterborne diseases,” says Pulumo. “This project has really helped us.”