Is climate change a threat to development in Lesotho?

Aug 11, 2022

Despite Lesotho being a very low contributor to the causes of climate change, it stands to be among the worst hit countries to suffer the effects.

Climate change acts as a risk multiplier for development, magnifying the root causes of existing challenges. It is well documented that countries currently struggling with gender inequity, poverty, health crises, and limited infrastructure will feel the effects of climate change earlier and harder than countries that can more easily adapt and absorb at least some degree of additional challenges.

“Climate change has also emerged as undoubtedly one of the major developmental challenges of our time. There is increased scientific knowledge and evidence to illustrate the current potential future social, economic and environmental impacts of climate change. Although the SADC (Southern African Development Community) regions contribution to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases is small, in proportion compared to other regions, the region is highly vulnerable to several impacts arising from climate change. These challenges are further exacerbated by the pressure and the pressing socio-economic challenges and the low adaptive capacity of the region. The impacts of climate change are and will continue to impede on regional economic growth and development prospects, including its effort to reduce poverty, achieve food security and attain Sustainable Development Goals.” – Dr. Stergomena Tax, Executive Secretary, SADC

In the coming years, Lesotho is likely to become hotter and drier and will continue to experience extreme events like droughts and floods. This will have adverse effects for soil erosion, deforestation, recurrent droughts, desertification, land degradation and the loss of biodiversity. Lesotho already has a fragile ecosystem because of its topography, type and pattern of rainfall, progressive erosion of soils and land use patterns. The spring and summer seasons are characterized by heavy, short-duration downpours and intense storms which can cause soil movement. Lesotho’s winters are cold and dry with no active vegetation growth, further increasing the precious soil’s vulnerability.

Image of rural Lesotho during a drought.
snow-covered lesotho in the winter

These side-by-side images compare a drought-ridden Lesotho with a snow-covered Lesotho. 

Climate change is pushing Lesotho’s already precarious food security to the extreme

All pillars of food security including availability, access, utilization, and stability are already compromised. Despite 80% of the population living in rural areas, their capacity to grow food beyond simple homestead gardens is severely limited by the topography and soil structure. Only 10% of the country’s land is considered arable. Agriculture is predominantly rain-fed, making it vulnerable to droughts and extreme climate variability. Farming has been declining for years due to soil erosion, poor land-use practices and decreasing soil fertility. Lesotho only produces 30% of the maize it requires as the main staple food, with the remaining imported from South Africa. Given the proximity between the two countries, a drought affecting Lesotho is likely to also impact South Africa, as transpired in the 2007 food crisis.

In early 2022, the Disaster Management Authority (DMA) in Lesotho estimated that 338,000 Basotho (approximately 15% of the population) would face severe hunger this year because food production and access has been severely impacted by both COVID-19 and heavy rains that clogged the soil and washed away the seeds. This number will continue to rise as food production efforts are thwarted by hotter temperatures and unreliable rainfall.

climate change icon : climate change affects women and girls in many ways

Girls and women are the most affected during climatic shocks

The impact of climate change on females is intrinsically linked to gender inequity and violations of their human rights and dignity.

  • Droughts can mean that girls and women must travel further each day searching for water and firewood, increasing their workload, limiting their ability to attend school, earn income and invest in their careers, and exposes them to risks of violence.
  • Girls and women are more likely to be living in poverty and have less control over resources, making them more vulnerable to food insecurity. During food and water shortages, girls and women are more likely to sacrifice their own health (by choice and by force) in favour of providing for their spouses, children, or other family members.
  • The stress of natural disasters and food insecurity destabilizes patriarchal relationships, often leading to increased gender-based violence at the hands of stressed men.
  • Desperate families unable to feed their daughters often resort to early/forced marriages as a means of ridding themselves of another mouth to feed.
  • Environmental stressors lead to the rise of organizations that engage in human trafficking and extreme labour exploitation, most often targeted at girls and women who are vulnerable and desperate.

Lesotho’s efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals pertaining to climate change include adaption mechanisms to improve and diversify livelihoods. The strategy is integrated in the country’s overall development strategies to eliminate poverty and eradicate inequality. Progress on this strategy is limited at best.

Help Lesotho’s Response

Help Lesotho’s efforts towards limiting the devastating effects of climate change focus on building the resilience of vulnerable people so they can better adapt to challenges and make the best possible choices for themselves and their families’ health and safety. Vulnerable people become less vulnerable when they are equipped with confidence, decision making strategies, and belief in themselves as leaders who never give up. Help Lesotho’s mental health approach is a direct strategy to combat the depression and hopelessness often associated with climate change impacts. Additionally, all our programs address gender inequity and develop strategies to target gender-based violence by challenging the socioeconomic norms around the treatment of girls and women. Boys and men are taught to uphold women’s rights and act as role-models and leaders to other men in their schools and communities.

cows graze on dry grass during lesotho drought

Cows graze on dry grass in a Lesotho field during a period of extreme drought.