LESOTHO: Water running on empty
A brand new hand pump at a school in Maseru brings water and joy
Johannesburg, 4 July 2008 (IRIN) - Three parched years in a row have drained Lesotho's water sources and thousands of people that are already facing chronic food insecurity risk losing access to water, the spread of disease and death.
"Water is increasingly becoming a scarce commodity; this, coupled with recurrent droughts and variable weather patterns ... poses serious challenges," Bernard Batidzirai, Education Specialist at the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), told IRIN.
In 2007 the worst dry spell in three decades put 400,000 of the roughly 1.9 million population in desperate need of assistance, forcing the government to declare a state of emergency. The situation has scarcely improved: the Disaster Management Authority (DMA) estimated that 350,000 people would suffer food deficits over the next six months.
"The deteriorating water situation in the country is evident, as the water table is receding and a number of boreholes and springs in populated rural areas have dried up," Batidzirai said.
According to the Lesotho Department of Rural Water Supplies (DRWS), 30 percent of water points - boreholes, wells and springs - in rural areas have dried up. In both the highlands and the lowlands, thousands now depend solely on limited surface water, where and when it is available.
A 2007 assessment of water and sanitation needs in schools, undertaken by the Ministry of Education and Training, indicated that more than 60 percent of boreholes in the lowland districts had already dried up as the water table dropped.
DRWS figures indicate that up to 30 percent of households nationwide now lack access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities. In 2006 the figure was substantially lower, but still affected 21 percent.
"We are experiencing the very serious reality of climate change ... in Lesotho this has been evidenced by our country being affected by the worst drought and the longest rains, all in the same year," Monyane Moleleki, the Minister of Natural Resources, said last week during a handover of UNICEF water pumps for schools in the capital, Maseru. Water health hazard
Chronic food insecurity, declining agricultural productivity, desperate poverty and one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world mean Lesotho's population is already highly vulnerable to shocks.
Water scarcity on top of this "is likely to lead to increased incidents of water-borne diseases, such as cholera, diarrhoea and dysentery", Batidzirai said.
Diarrhoeal diseases are the second most common cause of hospital and clinic admissions among children below the age of 12, after pneumonia. According to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MoSW), 14 percent of institutional deaths of children are due to diarrhoea.
An internal MoSW survey found that approximately 60 percent of the country's health centres did not have access to clean, safe water.
Moleleki said access to clean water was enshrined in Lesotho's National Water and Sanitation Policy. The national goal was to provide 30 litres of clean water per person per day, and to ensure that the travelling distance required to collect clean water did not exceed 150 metres.
In response to the crisis, the UK's Department for International Development has made available some US$1 million, with which UNICEF has provided 310 hand pumps and rehabilitated 345 more, constructed 40 boreholes and erected 50 water tanks, providing safe drinking water to nearly 200,000 people and 81,000 school children.