Many youngsters in the country – an estimated 130,000 (in a population of 2.2 million) – have lost either one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. Lesotho has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world, with nearly a quarter of all adults infected by the disease. Average life expectancy is therefore just 48 according to 2009 data from the World Health Organization (WHO).
To make matters worse, this small mountainous kingdom, which is entirely surrounded by South Africa, has suffered from severe floods and drought over the past two years. This has caused food prices to rise significantly, particularly for staples such as maize. In September last year, the United Nations (UN) therefore appealed for 38.5 million dollars to help 725,000 people affected by poor harvests.
Even before the erratic weather, families in Lesotho were struggling to feed themselves. Many parts of this highland nation offer limited opportunities for cultivation and farming methods have remained basic. Organisations such as the UN’s child agency, UNICEF, have been running programmes to help farmers become more resilient to changing weather patterns and give advice on conservation methods of agriculture.
However, with many households having lost productive adult workers, making a living and providing enough food is a constant challenge. Rates of stunting and malnutrition among children have therefore been rising. Among under-fives, nearly 17% of Lesotho’s children were underweight in the period 2005-2011, compared with 14% in 1990-1995 (WHO).
Due to the recent food crisis, UNICEF and the Ministry of Social Development have extended their child grants programme to cover 15,000 households. This provides a quarterly allowance for vulnerable families of around 40 dollars. This money is used by most to purchase extra food or livestock. One grandmother, who is raising her three orphaned grandchildren, told UNICEF that she was able to put some of the money towards providing the two youngest with school shoes.
Prince Harry’s charity, called Sentebale (meaning ‘forget me not’) is active in helping with the education of children, particularly those infected with HIV/AIDS. The charity also provides school bursaries to cover the cost of fees, uniforms, food and materials, as well as running five night schools which allow boys who herd animals during the day to receive an education. Such work is vital in a country where only around a third of children are currently able to complete secondary education.