Lesotho gears up for disasters

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…as climate change heightens risks

By Matiisetso Mosala

While Lesotho is not prone to risks associated with big scale disasters such as cyclones or volcanic eruptions, hazards like droughts, river flash floods, and landslides in recent years have made it imperative to reduce disaster risks and increase community disaster preparedness.

These hazards had not been occurring too frequently in Lesotho, however in recent times, with climate change intensification, their frequency and intensity have increased.

‘Malepekola Lekhanya, a 65 year old woman from Ha-Nakeli Thaba-Tseka says in her region they are mostly affected by drought, heavy rainfalls which subsequently often mean heavy snowfall.

Living in the rural parts of the country where information on most things arrives late, Lekhanya said they have had to find creative ways of establishing early warnings for possible disasters.

“We have come to identify that when it rains a lot, chances of heavy snowfall in the winter season is highly likely” Lekhanya said indicating however that they never knew what to do to prepare for dire situations.

She shared that as villagers, they have contributed greatly to parched wetlands in their communities by overgrazing which leaves the soil bare and easily eroded, leaving them vulnerable and without water during drought periods.

Keketso Matsoinyane of Menoaneng Mokhotlong said his region like Thaba-Tseka experiences heavy snowfall, drought, windy conditions and heavy rains which he says hit them very hard in December last year.

“…we really felt that we were in a state of disaster because our crops were washed-off and bridges also collapsed. Overall 8 bridges were damaged by the heavy rains, with two of those directly affecting us here in Menoaneng as we used them to connect to other villages and as way to town” Matsoinyane said.

With trainings held by World Vision Lesotho for hard-hit communities, Matsoinyane said they were taught that a disaster has to be declared by the Prime Minister, indicative that the loss caused exceeds the ability of the affected community to cope with its own resources.

Lekhanya explained that they have learned that they have to use early warning signs to prepare for worst case scenarios that may leave them vulnerable.

“We have realised that we became vulnerable because we were not doing anything to prepare for possible disasters” said Lekhanya

Lekhanya told this publication that she is the guardian of two grandchildren who look up to her to provide them food but the adverse effects of hazards have in the past made it difficult, propelling them to depend on handouts.

Now however, she says they have been made aware to preserve food and to fetch their animals from feedlot so that they are not trapped in the snow and possibly killed and create specific shelter for them.

This Lekhanya and Matsoinyane agree is especially important because they use their castle mostly to plant, as a mode of transport and as income source for those without animals.

To ensure enough food when they are unable to produce or fetch daily needs such as vegetables like potatoes, pumpkin and spinach, they dry them up in the sun to preserve them for later use.

“We turn the soil and cover it with tree leaves and dry grass to regulate moisture for drought and/or heavy rains or snow” explained Lekhanya

Khubelu Sponges in the District of Mokhotlong used to rehabilitate wetlands and erosion

Bunding is widely used in these districts to address soil erosion, landslides and preserve water from running-off and keep wetlands

Retšelisitsoe Molefe of the Disaster Management Authority (DMA) said when hazards hit; they could easily lead to a state of disaster. As a disaster management authority, Molefe said having studied trends over the years, Lesotho is mostly likely to experience disasters brought by drought, heavy rains and harsh strong winds.

“Once hazards hit, making the community vulnerable and we realise that the damage caused is beyond our capacity for control, we may advise the Prime Minister to declare a disaster in such a community” Molefe noted.

He reiterated that “It is important to work towards disaster risk reduction because hazards lead to disasters and we are trying to reduce them before it gets problematic.”

To drive Disaster Risk Reduction forward, the European Union Fund has set aside EUR 780 000 (approximately M13 million) for Lesotho’s humanitarian assistance.

The European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection indicated that the humanitarian assistance is part of a larger €24.5 million package for the Southern African and Indian Ocean regions for hard-hit communities.

The European Union Head of Delegation said EUR 180 000 (M3 million) will go towards Education in Emergencies while EUR 600 000 (M10 million) is for Disaster Preparedness in hard-hit communities of Mokhotlong, Thaba Tseka, and Leribe, highland councils.

“This action will target 15,000 beneficiaries, 100 community structures and 20 schools in remote and high risk and vulnerability communities,” said EU Head of delegation.

The assistance will also expand into geographical areas previously not covered with Disaster Preparedness activities in five vulnerable community councils in the identified three districts as representation of a consolidation of the first Disaster Preparedness actions funded in 2018 and 2020.

The European Union has emphasized that their efforts aim to strengthen community skills on Disaster Preparedness with activities related to early warning systems, capacity building and shock responsive social protection.

Other pillars are to build disaster risk reduction management capacity and provide technical expertise for use of innovative solutions such as drones, Geographic Information System maps and communication systems for early warning and subsequent Early Action.

Advocacy activities at local and national levels will also be created to enhance preparedness for Disaster Preparedness especially for Shock responsive social protection (SRSP), cash transfer while improving response capacities of schools through school response plans and child-led Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) clubs.

World Vision Lesotho, which is the implementing agency’s Project Manager Mamello Tsekoa said observations show that climate change has an impact towards disasters and may have a strong influence towards recent hazards. However she said World Vision has no technical or data evidence at this point to neither confirm nor dispute the climate change effect towards recent hazards.

Tsekoa said the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) has funded World Vision Lesotho for Disaster Risk Reduction with the aim to strengthen national and community capacities for effective disaster preparedness and response in Lesotho.

“We intent to reach our goal through working with communities to strengthen their knowledge and skills towards preparedness against shocks and disasters, whilst enhancing institutional capacities to support disaster preparedness and humanitarian response at national district and local level by positioning of emergency stockpiles as Non Food Items” Tsekoa noted.

The project is in its second phase, following the 2018/19 project that was implemented in Mokhotlong World Vision in partnership with Lesotho Red Cross Society in Qacha’s Nek.

Tsekoa further indicated that the project will strengthen efforts in reducing the number of people affected by shocks and disasters. This will be through capacity building initiatives for the Village Disaster Management Teams, schoolchildren, teachers and the community at large on development, adherence and review of contingency plans.

She said “…on the agenda is also to enhance capacity building initiatives and the project will employ usage of Un Armored Vehicle -Drones for community mapping to enable high-quality risk analysis.”

Over 9 000 community members have been reached with information through public gatherings and distribution of IEC materials, 45 VDMT’s.  40 teachers and 80 school children have also received training towards completion of disaster preparedness plans and community mapping has been done in 20 communities and is ongoing.

The project will be completing positioning of Non Food Items in the 10 districts of Lesotho in preparation for rapid onset disasters and VDMT’s will be equipped with Early Warning tools such as whistles, flags, loud speakers, solar radios and lanterns to strengthen early warning communication within the communities.

The European Union Lesotho has supported Lesotho in addressing climate change related issues through various projects in the past.

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