Lesotho’s critical infrastructures lost to devastating effects of climate change

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…Botha-Bothe’s Seboche Mission Hospital will remain closed for 6 months after its roof was damaged by the storms

By Nicole Tau

Following severe storms and torrential rains witnessed in September, a large population that receives medical services from the Seboche Mission Hospital in the district of Botha-Bothe has been left in limbo.

The hospital was not the only public infrastructure that succumbed to the storms as many parts of the country were devastated by strong rains, ferocious winds, and hailstorms towards the end of September, tearing down essential infrastructures that had long been either neglected or poorly maintained.

This extreme weather intensity and frequency come as a result of Climate Change. KDNews understands that it has now been a matter of concern if the old, long-neglected infrastructures in Lesotho will withstand the negative impact of climate change.

According to Retsepile ’Neko, Senior Meteorologist at Lesotho Meteorological Services (LMS), since the year 2020, Lesotho has been under the La Niña weather pattern during which a country experiences cool and wet weather conditions in summer.

While a La Niña phase is beneficial to agriculture and hydrology because it produces precipitation, ’Neko warn that its intensity is destructive.

“Rainfall is good but the nature in which it comes … recently we have had episodes where we had hailstorms in parts of Leribe… we recorded closely to 98 mm [Rainfall] in 24 hours which is very extreme especially in Lesotho. If it is greater than fifty, it raises an alarm,” Neko said.

According to Neko, the frequency of the extremes is increasing and the intensity of extreme weather events is increasing as well.

KDNews understands that the torrential rains accompanied by strong winds caused flooding and saw serious damage to numerous infrastructures in the Leribe district’s major towns of Maputsoe and Hlotse and in the district of Botha-Bothe, with Seboche Mission Hospital the hardest hit.

The hospital suffered massive damage after its entire roofing collapsed during a hailstorm.

KDNews learned that expectant mothers and patients in critical conditions were turned back and had to seek assistance in other hospitals in the region.

“The damage was extensive in a way that it paralyzed the whole system of the hospital because the roofing that covered important departments where we keep patients who need in-patient care was extensively damaged to a point that we can’t keep any patient in those wards,” Dr. Emmanuel Nyondo from Seboche hospital said.

Nyondo told KDNews that female and male wards, a high care ward, and a ward where patients are resuscitated and stabilized, as well as the Covid-19 isolation ward, were all damaged.

The Roman Catholic Church’s Leribe Diocese owns the Seboche Mission Hospital and is a non-profit Roman Catholic health institution.

Nyondo said the infrastructure of the hospital dates as far back as 1962 and although should have been replaced about every ten years, that has not been the case.

“In 2019 we had an incident of a hailstorm, then the roof was left leaking and it was supposed to have been replaced completely. However, due to financial constraints government, through the Lesotho Millennium Development Agency (LMDA) tasked with maintenance of health facilities in the country, was unable to fix our roof,” said Nyondo.

Nyondo however pointed that the government has since declared Seboche Mission Hospital damage as an emergency and has committed to complete fixing it in about six months, until which the hospital will have to shut down its operations.

Lintle Makatleho Mosala, a Senior Public Relations Officer of the Maseru City Council (MCC), said the City has ensured its assets when asked about the impact of climate change on essential infrastructure.

However, Mosala notes that the City’s insurance policies do not cover events of catastrophe, and there is no allocated budget to manage or mitigate incidents of disasters.

“We need to relook at our policies and the decisions that we make in terms of budgeting. This is really an eye-opener for MCC. In terms of insurances, we need to be very careful about the things that we include in the policy,” Mosala said.

Bus terminal queue marshal Mantsuoe Mahula said in another event, a bus terminal roofing structure housing buses and minibusses in the city collapsed on September 28 in the evening.

Although no lives were lost, one taxi owner, who was not named suffered a concussion and a week later, his only means of income a mini-bus which generated him R1100 a day, remains trapped under the bus terminal’s metal roof scrap.

“The structure is very old. Its pillars were corroding already. As a result, when the powerful winds and torrents arrived, it was unable to bear the pressure. MCC visited us a week ago, took photos, and nothing has been done since,” Mahula said.

Mosala told KDNews that the taxi owner’s concerns are being considered while MCC assesses how to proceed because the occurrence was caused by a calamity that was not covered by insurance.

She added that the City is working on bringing in big machinery to clean the steel rubble due to the severity of the damage.

In addition to Maseru’s bus terminal, Mosala said MCC will have to restore the roofing at the Maseru Market area, which was also severely damaged by recent storms.

These catastrophes are caused by a long-term shift in global or regional climate patterns referred to as climate change that brings sporadic weather that destroys property. Climate change is a byproduct of global warming, which refers to the rising surface temperatures of the Earth.

According to ’Neko Lesotho’s climate is characterized as temperate continental. He adds that the country’s geographical location on the plateau of the tapering Southern African subcontinent exposes the country to substantial amounts of both the warm Indian Ocean current and the cold Benguela current from the Atlantic Ocean, rendering the country sensitive to climate change.

“The changing climate has increased the frequency of these extreme weather events and their intensity. So if it’s dry, it’s very dry and if it is wet, it is very wet. So we want rainfall, but when we get a chance of getting rainfall, it becomes a disaster,” Neko said.

In 2015 December, the government of Lesotho had declared a State of Emergency in light of El Nino drought which had a severe impact on food security and water availability.

This year 2021 in February, calling on development partners for assistance, Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro declared a six month State of Emergency following episodes of heavy rains that cost lives and completely ruined various infrastructures and crops.

When questioned if LMS is doing anything to alleviate the harm caused by these extreme unexpected weather patterns, ’Neko stated that a five-year initiative called Early Warning Systems Phase 2 is presently underway with the assistance of the Adaptation Fund and the Green Planet Fund.

According to Neko, the project’s goal is to improve the country’s early warning systems, which are currently insufficient for informing the population about extreme weather events in a timely manner.