Lesotho: Famine fears in African country twinned with Wales

By Garry Owen
BBC Cymru

Image caption,
Garry Owen and a child being fed at Thaba Tseka School

A small southern Africa country twinned with Wales is facing a crisis which could lead to thousands of people dying from hunger.

One of the world's leading humanitarian agencies has told BBC Cymru Wales Lesotho needs international help to stop the current crisis turning into a humanitarian tragedy.

The World Food Programme - a United Nations (UN) agency - said the international community must act fast to avoid a tragedy in the drought-hit kingdom.

Food emergencies have been declared across southern Africa as a result of the drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon.

Throughout Lesotho, crops have failed and food prices have risen dramatically, beyond the reach of a large section of the population.

Consequently, more than 500,000 people - a quarter of the nation's population of two million - are in danger, according to the UN.

This is a result of severe food and water shortages and malnutrition.

Image caption,
Crops have failed this year

And with winter about to set in, bringing cold weather, Unicef has warned as many as 800,000 people could be facing hunger in a few months' time.

I travelled to Lesotho with a BBC Wales crew to film a documentary for S4C, looking at the impact of the drought.

On a personal note, I had travelled there in 2005 to film a documentary for BBC One Wales looking at the HIV/Aids crisis.

The situation was desperate then, with one in three people living with HIV/aids.

Lesotho had one of the highest rates of the disease in the world. The HIV/Aids crisis continues, but I wanted to see now how the country was coping with this, and with the new crisis - drought.

One doctor at a clinic near Maseru, the capital city, told me that, unless the situation improves, "it could be like Ethiopia".

It was very worrying to see people facing the reality of a winter without food.

The crops have failed in Lesotho for the second year running and 80% of the people living there are subsistence farmers who depend on their crops.

Many people told me they were already going without food and children I spoke to told me they only had food in school because there was "nothing to eat at home". Schools have to rely on help from the World Food Programme.

At the moment the situation is very difficult for people in Lesotho but it is going to get much worse over the coming weeks and months as winter sets in. It gets freezing cold during the winter season and many families are facing extreme hardship.

Agencies such as the World Food Programme are appealing for international help immediately to make sure people get the aid they need to survive.

More on the Lesotho crisis on Manylu at 12.30 BST and in a special programme Argyfwng Sychder Lesotho on S4C at 21:30 on Thursday 12 May.

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