Drought sends villagers into panic

Drought sends villagers into panic

                      …….‘We will all perish – our livestock and us – if this continues’…….

ROTHE-AMID scorching temperatures, a cow lay dead in plain sight in Ha-Molungoa village. No one bothers to skin the animal and it is left to rot or become a feast for dogs and vultures – never mind that this is happening in a meat loving community.

For now, there are bigger concerns than meat. Livestock is dying in huge numbers and villagers whose lives depend on the animals are gravely worried.
“It is like the cows are just waiting for death,” Jonkomane Jokomane, a local villager, tells thepost.
Lesotho is in the throes of a debilitating drought largely blamed on climate change. Although the country has faced droughts before, this year’s is worse, according to experts. Villagers and their animals are the hardest hit.

Relying on their livestock for draught power, transport, food, and as a medium of exchange, many people here can only watch helplessly as their animals succumb to the drought.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Networks (FEWSN) says abnormal dryness in Lesotho is affecting the availability of pastures and water, as well as livestock body conditions.
It says should the drought persist, the livestock body condition will likely remain poor and result in below-average prices on the market.
As a result, household income from the sale of livestock will likely be lower than normal, it says.
In Ha-Molungoa village in Rothe, the dire situation is leaving villagers in panic.

At least 20 cows died from starvation and lack of water in November alone in the village. So skinny are animals in the area that people do not bother to skin them for meat when they die.
According to the chief of Rothe, Tota Toloane, there seems to be no respite in sight.

On entering the village, the dried up carcass of a cow in parched land greets thepost news crew.
“This cow died at the beginning of November. There are many more,” says Jokomane, the villager.
It is not the only carcass in the area. About 200 meters away is a spine structure of yet another animal that one can only assume is a cow too.
There are more cows fighting for their lives in the mountain cliffs, according to Chief Toloane.
Many more have already died and there are many skeletons on the mountain slope, evidence that there was once a herd of cows grazing there. The pastures have now turned arid while water sources have dried up.

Katleho Fooko herds his family’s 28 cows daily and he attests to the grave situation caused by the worst drought in living memory.
Two of his cows have died from the drought.

“It was a bitter pill to swallow to watch the cows die in such pain,” he says.
“I left them to be eaten by dogs, termites, worms and ravens,” he adds, shaking his head.
One died while grazing on the little green grass left on part of the land. The other died in the cattle pen at home.
To save the remaining animals, Fooko and his father realised they needed an animal expert. “A vet came and gave each of our cows an injection. I don’t know the name of the injection but I do know that I was told it will help in this excessive drought,” he says.

Villagers have also resorted to buying grass and lucerne to supplement livestock feeding but the high costs means they cannot do this as often as they would like.
Jokomane says he needs M120 for lucerne and M30 for Simile per month, an amount he can hardly afford.
“It is too much for me,” he says, adding, “But what other choice do I have?”

The elderly Jokomane says he has lived and herded livestock in Ha-Molungoa all his life and he has never seen such extreme heat.
He says the situation is better for him as he still has merino sheep and angora goats to rely on when he sells mohair and wool.
“Imagine those that don’t have other sources of revenue?” Jokomane says.

Another villager, Mehauhelo Tsimane, has only been working as a herd boy in Rothe for a month but he has already seen three cows die.
His dog had just joined him from a feast on one of the cows that had died on Lerato River’s dry river bed when thepost caught up with him.
“We only know (that another cow has died) when dogs come back with mouths covered in blood or with a foul smell… they would have been feasting on a dead animal,” Tsimane says.
The United Nations Resident Coordinator’s office in Lesotho, in collaboration with humanitarian partners, issued a report covering May to October highlighting that below normal rains were recorded in many parts of the country from April to September. This impacted negatively on the winter crop and rangelands.
The report showed that rangelands deteriorated earlier (August) than normal, negatively affecting livestock conditions.
Humans are affected too, according to experts.

According to the report, approximately 350 000 rural people are in dire need of emergency food assistance.
The report classifies the four districts of Maseru, Mohale’s Hoek, Quthing and Qacha’s Nek as in urgent need of food assistance.
It is expected that the situation could deteriorate further and more than 430 000 rural people would be severely food insecure, and all of the country’s districts will require emergency food assistance soon.

A UN agency, the World Food Programme (WFP) says the situation has been worsened by successive years of crop failure, low incomes and high food prices, with about 41 percent of rural families spending over half their income on food.

The WFP said over 30 percent of Lesotho’s population across all 10 districts will face high levels of acute food insecurity until March 2020.
More than 70 percent of the population in rural Lesotho is engaged in subsistence farming.
Productivity has been deteriorating since the early 1990s because of unpredictable weather conditions, including persistent and recurring droughts.
Meanwhile, the drought is likely to persist for much longer.

According to the Lesotho Meteorological Services (LMS), the country was expected to receive normal rains with the possibility of below normal rains between October and December this year.
Most parts of the country are currently not receiving any rains.
The LMS said normal rainfall conditions are expected with the possibility of above normal rains between November this year and March next year, although episodes of dry conditions are expected in-between.

The department further indicated that the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon is currently on its neutral phase with most models predicting a slight possibility of a weak El Nino during the period December 2019 to February 2020.

The neutral ENSO can have a mixture of both El Nino (Dry conditions) and La Nina (enhanced rainfall).
Lesotho is highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change, with droughts already affecting harvest yields and causing significant loss of livestock, according to experts.
The climate is predicted to become warmer and dryer, making droughts and floods more frequent and intense.

With less snow on the mountains and an increase in run-off rates, soil erosion will worsen and deplete the soil of nutrients, according to the WFP.
The UN agency says while some climate adaptation measures are being taken, the country lacks the resources for extensive mitigation.
For villagers such as Jokomane, this can only spell disaster.

“We will all perish – our livestock and us – if this continues. God help us,” he tells thepost, surveying the dry landscape around him.

Rose Moremoholo

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