Everything you need to know about poverty in Lesotho 

Lesotho has faced environmental and social factors that constantly plague its people and halt the country’s essential development. Currently, almost 60% of the population is under the poverty line, 25% is without adequate nutrition and millions of citizens are suffering from appalling diseases. To unpack the gravity of the situation, the following is an overview of the factors influencing poverty in Lesotho.

Food Insecurity in Lesotho

Lesotho heavily relies on internal agriculture for its food supply. However, the country’s climate is extremely unpredictable, with each season bringing different and challenging weather conditions. In the summer, severe droughts cause soil erosion and suboptimal conditions for cultivation. In the fall, heavy rainfall makes land susceptible to severe flooding and the harsh winter temperatures reach the negatives. With such stark contrasts between temperatures and weather conditions throughout the year, crops cannot grow properly to sustain the dense population. Consequently, this further leads to severe food insecurity, food shortages and malnutrition in adults and children, which exacerbates the poverty in Lesotho as the climatic conditions force laborers to stay home to find ways to feed themselves and their families rather than go to work.

The Education Crisis

Within classrooms in Lesotho, many teachers do not have proper experience or training and there is a scarcity of furniture for students to write on or sit on. Furthermore, many classes in Lesotho are extremely overcrowded due to the dense population and there are often around 100 students per classroom. Rural children often have to walk miles to attend class, which prompts many children to miss multiple days of school due to unsafe weather conditions for travel. In Lesotho, the dropout rates are concerning, with 94% of elementary school dropouts residing in rural areas, and nearly 89% of higher-level education students also leaving school prematurely. The primary reason for these dropouts is the inability to afford education expenses. Moreover, the inaccessibility of standard education in Lesotho hampers students’ ability to access quality learning opportunities efficiently. 

The Impact of HIV/AIDS in Lesotho

In the past seven years, more than 180,000 people in Lesotho have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS, making it the leading cause of death in the country. Unfortunately, Lesotho has not had enough access to funding or treatments since the AIDS epidemic began in 1986 and the lack of adequate health care treatments in Lesotho gives allows the disease to infect more and more people. Moreover, the widespread impacts of HIV and AIDS reduce the healthy population of Lesotho, further handicapping the fragile economy.

The Impact of COVID-19

COVID-19 critically slowed down the export business in Lesotho, leaving the economy reeling. The main source of income in Lesotho before the pandemic was the prosperous textile industry, which exported millions of dollars worth of garments. During the pandemic, several clothing factories closed due to health concerns arising in light of the unbridled infection rate. With an initially high vulnerability to the COVID-19 infection in 2020, the Lesotho economy had to take a backseat as the working population of Lesotho recovered. The dwindling GDP of Lesotho, which decreased to a meager -5.6, highlighted the magnitude of the situation.

Lesotho’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has seen significant growth since then. Nevertheless, the enduring impact of the textile industry’s downturn remains evident in the current state of affairs. Prior to the pandemic, numerous textile factories supplied Western brands. However, with the decline in garment demand during that period, many factories closed at alarming rates, leading to substantial income losses. Over the past year, dozens of factories have shuttered due to dwindling revenue, resulting in thousands of workers losing their jobs.

While poverty in Lesotho has dropped over the past 15 years, it continues to impact a significant number of people. Luckily, several efforts are in progress to turn the country back around. 

Efforts to Combat HIV/AIDS

Over the past 16 years, The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has donated more than $600 billion in aid to Lesotho, with a specific focus on combatting the widespread diseases across the country. Due to this vital funding, the organization was able to initiate programs to test the population and expand treatment availability nationwide. By the year 2020, the program successfully tested over 90% of the population and provided medication to over 90% of those who tested positive for the infections.

Since the program began, AIDS-related deaths have plateaued and infection case numbers have decreased from 320,000 to 270,000.

Educating the Youth

Regarding education, the World Bank is actively supporting the strengthening of schooling in Lesotho through substantial financial aid. This program is dedicated to enhancing the quality of education through standardized curriculums and implementing necessary changes in the learning environment after the impact of COVID-19. Currently, the program serves nearly 20,000 students and features plans to improve 300 classrooms across Lesotho.

Feeding the People

The World Food Programme in Lesotho has provided seedlings and restored miles of eroded lands for agriculture, aiding the reconstruction of the vast agricultural economy. So far, the organization planted 16,000 seedlings and rehabilitated 620 miles of eroded land. In doing so, the organization reintroduced thousands of people to main food sources, which will battle rampant malnutrition as the program expands its extraordinary influence. 

Looking Ahead

Efforts to combat poverty in Lesotho are showing promising results. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has made significant strides in combatting HIV/AIDS, resulting in a decrease in infection cases and AIDS-related deaths. The World Bank’s support in strengthening education is enhancing learning environments and providing opportunities for thousands of students. Additionally, the WFP’s initiatives in agriculture are restoring eroded lands and reintroducing vital food sources to combat malnutrition. These combined efforts offer hope for a brighter future for the people of Lesotho.

Divya Shankar

Photo: Pixabay