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WFP warns of "silent emergency"

Country Map - Lesotho, South Africa
South Africa completely surrounds Lesotho (IRIN)

Lesotho is facing a "silent emergency" as drought-induced food shortages hit poor households in the tiny mountain kingdom, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned on Monday.

A rapid survey in five districts has estimated that 8,400 households need immediate food assistance, WFP's Acting Country Director Viney Jain told IRIN. The vulnerable households included the elderly, landless casual farm workers, single-headed homes and orphans. The survey revealed that people at risk in each community were already eating seed meant for next season's crop, and were selling what few assets they had.

"This is a silent emergency which could have a long-lasting impact for the next crop and the future for most vulnerable households," Jain said. "You don't see walking skeletons but the nutrition impact - the stunted growth - is growing fast."

A five-month targeted feeding programme, which would carry beneficiaries over to the next harvest in March 2002, would require 3,550 mt of food aid and cost US $1.59 million. "It's a small intervention but it will go a long way in a small country like Lesotho," Jain said. So far, Ireland is the only aid donor to have responded, contributing $110,000 to the programme.

Lesotho, surrounded by South Africa, has a population of around two million. In the past, its economy was buoyed by remittances from workers in the South African mines. But job losses in that sector have hit Lesotho hard - a country with an official unemployment rate of over 40 percent. In addition, although Lesotho is a net food importer, this season's production has been 55 percent less than the average of the last five years.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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