LESOTHO — El Niño is scorching the earth in southern and eastern Africa, where recently there has been little to no rain. The United Nations says a million children are at risk of starvation, and many are in the tiny nation of Lesotho.
As dawn broke over Lesotho’s Ha Khabele village, it promised yet another scorching day without rain. Seventy-year-old Malepota Makara woke her five grandchildren, most of them orphaned by AIDS.
It didn’t take long to get the three eldest ready for school. That’s because there was nothing to eat. Like everyone else in the village, Makara’s crops failed.
“It is painful to go to school without food,” said nine-year-old Litipitso.
“This drought is more severe than I have ever seen,” his grandmother explained.
Makara knows instinctively what experts have confirmed — this is the strongest El Niño on record in southern Africa, delaying the rains, and putting 14 million people at risk of starvation.
El Niño’s hot, dry conditions on top of already high temperatures have combined to form a lethal cocktail. A pitiful burst of rain in recent days coaxed out some greenery. But it was a cruel illusion, as it came too late.
It should be Lesotho’s rainy season. Normally the river would have water waist high. Instead the riverbed is bone dry.
U.N. humanitarian coordinator Yolanda Dasgupta said she is worried about what’s ahead.
“The rainfall has been delayed to an extent that people haven’t been able to plant the crops that they need to survive. We are looking at people not having enough to eat at least until 2017.”
At school, Makara’s grandchildren get their one meal of the day — a bowl of watery porridge and some corn.
But as the country’s grain supplies run out, schools are worried they will have to stop their feeding schemes.
Water is a concern too. Lesotho’s government trucks deliver water to the villages, but its not enough. A nearby dam has only two weeks supply left before it too runs dry.
At home, Makara managed to scrounge a few unripe peaches for the younger children.
And later, when their brothers and sisters returned, she rested for the first time. There was no supper once again.
“If I can just give them food and love,” she sighed, “then they will be fine.”
Lesotho desperately needs at least $27 million to feed people on the brink of starvation. But they are battling to attract the attention of international donors who are already over-stretched dealing with other global crises.