For many people in Lesotho, the destruction wrought by widespread flooding this year is just one of many setbacks in their ongoing socio-economic struggle. While government has a national strategic development plan and a disaster management plan in place, both immediate relief support and sustainable CSI from nongovernmental sources are also needed. Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s appeal to the country’s development partners refers, in fact, to an estimated cost of R100 million for post-disaster rebuilding.
Subject to regular and extreme weather events, Lesotho was hit by flooding as well as a destructive windstorm earlier this year. These are not unique events, but follow on a series of droughts, floods, early frosts, extreme windstorms, hailstorms and snowfall over the past three decades. These events impact the majority of the people who rely on subsistence farming of small, rain-dependent farms or livestock production.
The devastation of the recent floods, for example, has caused severe socio-economic hardship. Increased loss of livelihoods, food insecurity, a lack of clean water and energy, and transport issues resulted from damage to crops, homes, roads, bridges and other infrastructure as well as soil erosion. Water contamination increased the incidence of diseases such as debilitating diarrhoea. For Lesotho’s poor and vulnerable households, the descent into even deeper poverty was inevitable.
Urgent action is needed to address acute food insecurity and restore livelihoods. Dr Majoro admitted at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on 1 November this year that Lesotho does not have the resources to ensure adaptation to the extreme weather events, or to effect restitution. National resources have been depleted by the government’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic – an unforeseen setback in the country’s struggle for prosperity.
Lesotho’s Policy on Corporate Governance for Lesotho Public Enterprises, Government Agencies and Entities requires, in terms of CSR, that such entities respond to social issues, placing a high priority on ethical standards, and act responsibly with regard to the environment and human rights. Detailed regulations are, however, needed to guide the private sector on CSR. Some companies do not engage in it and those which do, do not always keep sight of the necessity to design programmes that foster community independence, or involve them in the design and implementation. It is also important that CSR is regulated and monitored nationally to ensure that it contributes to sustainable development. In its National Strategic Development Plan II for 2018 to 2023, the government does, however, indicate its intention to enforce compliance with CSR and environmental sustainability, and to develop guidelines for the mining industry. This should increase participation by the private sector.
At present, local and multinational enterprises which practise CSI generally adhere to the principles outlined in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. CSI managers need not be at a loss for ideas – Lesotho’s socio-economic development needs are substantial, given the fact that the country was grappling with various issues prior to the pandemic. These include an unemployment rate of almost 25%; poverty affecting almost 20% of the population, particularly in the rural areas where at least 179 000 people experience food insecurity; and one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world (25%).
These issues, along with Lesotho’s weather shocks, have worsened the plight of the vulnerable groups – women, orphaned and vulnerable children, woman- or child-headed households, the elderly, the disabled, the food insecure and people living with HIV/AIDS. Many citizens whose livelihoods depend on micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are also struggling, as the lockdown has also harmed them.
While the government of Lesotho seeks to identify options for strengthening the country’s financial response to disasters, many citizens continue to experience pressing needs. In terms of their CSR, private companies can make a significant difference through providing both immediate support and sustainable initiatives.
In a post-disaster needs assessment conducted in 2011, the government highlighted the importance of long-term recovery. This included focusing on vulnerable groups, providing relief assistance as well as fostering self-reliance through rebuilding livelihoods, and supporting spontaneous recovery initiatives launched by affected communities.
In fact, community involvement is key. In ensuring that both the immediate, post-disaster needs of citizens are met and CSI can support sustainable development, thorough needs assessments in collaboration with the targeted communities must be prioritised.