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UNICEF provides support to struggling families in Lesotho through cash transfers

By Tsitsi Singizi

MASERU, Lesotho, 16 November 2011 -The tremors of the global economic slow-down have reached Matiisetso Ntlale’s granary in the mountains of Lesotho. A half-full 25kg bag of corn, a head of cabbage and a near empty bottle of cooking oil, make up the entire contents of her storeroom. These should miraculously last her and her three grandchildren for the next three weeks as breakfast, lunch and supper.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Suzanne Beukes reports on the impact of the global financial crisis and the ongoing AIDS pandemic on children in Lesotho.  Watch in RealPlayer


Struggling to provide basics

At the age of 75, Matiisetso is too old to work in the fields and buys her food from the nearest ‘Shoprite’ supermarket. Her two children died a few years ago, leaving their children, in her care. Her only surviving daughter recently lost her job and cannot help her look after her orphaned grandchildren.

“Food is now too expensive,” says Ms. Ntlale. “Even combined the grant and my monthly government old -age stipend cannot put a decent meal on the table for my grandchildren.”

The harsh impact of the global economic crisis and the cost of an unrelenting HIV epidemic are taking their toll on Lesotho’s families as they struggle to provide for their children leaving 52 per cent of the country’s children living in poverty, according to the recently released Child Poverty Study.

© UNICEF video
A family in the small village of Ha Phalang, Lesotho. To cushion vulnerable families from the harsh economic conditions and the impact of HIV/AIDS, the government of Lesotho together with UNICEF and the European Union is currently offering support in the form of cash grants.

Worsening Child Poverty

Like most of its neighbours, Lesotho is struggling with economic challenges and growing poverty. The plight of the kingdom is worsened by a relatively undiversified economy that is heavily dependent on foreign markets. This makes it uniquely vulnerable to shocks like the global economic crisis. In this enclave, 43 per cent of the population live on less than $1.25 a day.

While battling with the economic crisis, this small mountainous kingdom with an estimated population of 2 million is also grappling with the world’s third highest HIV and AIDS prevalence rate, at 23 percent. This confluence of disease, hunger, poverty and worsening economic outcomes are shattering the traditional social safety nets for children. A large number of children are growing up with very little or no adult supervision, with fewer meals, poor shelter, no sanitation and a lack of other basics important for their well-being.  

Fortunately, UNICEF with the support from the European Union is making a difference in the lives of many families. The support is reaching families with cash transfers to cushion them from their dwindling household incomes and help to meet their urgent household needs. Grants are disbursed even to the remotest parts of the country, far off into the mountains where Ms. Ntlale resides.

© UNICEF video
Rising prices in food and fuel have drastically diminished the spending power of already vulnerable households.

But this is not enough.

Easily outpaced

The number of vulnerable children is growing and the demand for support is outstripping supply. The amount of LSE 360 as Granny Ntlale demonstrates is easily being outpaced by the rising costs of food and fuel. 

Ahmed Magan, UNICF representative in Lesotho, implored the international community to step up support to Lesotho and its children. "It is imperative that investment to Lesotho’s children is stepped up,” he said. “If nothing is done to help these children soon, more children will continue to face deprivations, high levels of chronic malnutrition will persist and more and more children will be abused and exploited."



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