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Govt warns of worst drought in 43 years

Pascalinah Kabi

BASOTHO should brace for the country’s worst drought in four decades, Energy and Meteorology Minister, Selibe Mochoboroane has warned.

The minister made the grim announcement at a press conference held in Maseru on Thursday, adding the adverse weather was due to El Niño—a periodic climatic phenomenon characterized by inadequate rain in some parts of the world and floods in others.

Under El Niño, parts of South America experience heavy rainfall, while dry conditions prevail in Australia, south-east Asia and southern Africa. El Niño used to occur in varying degrees of severity after every five years, but since the 1990s, has become more frequent due to global warming.

This year, weather experts forecast the phenomenon to peak between October and March, warning it could turn into one of the most severe on record.

“The nation is informed that the country is expected to experience insufficient rainfall from October 2015 to March 2016,” Mr Mochoboroane said.

The weather conditions, he said, would also be characterised by strong winds.

“Lightning, thunderstorms and hailstorms can also be expected during this season,” the minister said.

“The magnitude of the expected drought is anticipated to be one of the highest since 1972, and potentially among the four strongest since 1950.

“The dry conditions are the result of a very strong El Niño, present in the tropical Pacific Ocean, and which is likely to strengthen further before the end of the calendar year.”

Mr Mochoboroane said El Niño had far-reaching consequences for the health sector, disaster risk management, water resources and food security.

“Government has prepared mitigation and preparedness strategies in order to reduce the magnitude of the impact. Surveillance systems to facilitate close monitoring of the situation will be strengthened,” he said.

“Lesotho is not the only country in the region facing this problem. All southern African nations have the same problem, while central African countries are faced with floods due to the effects of El Niño.”

The minister also urged Basotho to take precautionary measures and remain on the lookout for periodic updates on the situation.

In her remarks at the same press briefing, Agriculture and Food Security Minister, ‘Mapalesa Mothokho, said this year’s agricultural season would require drought-resistant crops.

“It is important for our farmers to use stress-tolerant varieties of crops such as beans, sorghum and maize. Fortunately, we already have local farmers selling these types of seeds, such as ZM521 and ZM523, in Butha-Buthe, Leribe and Maseru,” Ms Mothokho said.

The minister also urged farmers to practice conservation agricultural methods such as rotational cropping to increase their yields and to dig deep wells instead of wide ones which easily evaporate.

On her part, Deputy Minister of Health, Liteboho Kompi, said the projected drought could result in the prevalence of epidemics such as diarrhea and fever. To prevent these diseases, Ms Kompi said people should consume boiled water and promptly report any outbreaks to the authorities.

“During droughts, people usually collect water from unsafe wells, and we urge Basotho to boil water before using it. We should also teach and constantly encourage children to wash their hands after using the toilet and every time before handling food,” she said.

“This is a national issue and people must immediately report any outbreak, no matter how minor it may seem to the chiefs, councillors and village health workers.”

Ms Kompi said her ministry had already started educational campaigns in light of the looming drought, adding funding had already been set aside for the purchase of food supplements.


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