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Program commenced:   1975

Total number of placements: 16 (as of 20 July, 2011)

Number of current placements: 0 (as of 17 August, 2011)

AVI Programs: Volunteer Program

Lesotho, pronounced as "Lesootoo", is a small country entirely surrounded by South Africa. Lesotho is also known as the 'kingdom of the sky'. The country's lowest point is, at 1,400 metres above sea level, the highest of any country in the world. At Thabana Ntlenyane, Lesotho reaches 3,482 metres, which is the highest point in southern Africa. Only a fraction over 10 per cent of Lesotho's land is arable, and there are no substantial natural resources other than water. As a result, Lesotho is heavily dependent on South Africa.

Contact our Southern Africa program office.

Development Issues

Socio-economic issues
Health issues
Environmental issues

Socio-economic issues

Lesotho is one of only 18 countries in the world where human development (as measured by the Human Development Index) has actually decreased in the last decade. Poverty is widespread in Lesotho with almost 50 per cent of the population living below the poverty line. However, the issue is not restricted to poverty per se but the inequality within society. Whilst the poorest 20 per cent of the population share 1.5 per cent of the total income, the richest 20 per cent share in excess of 66 per cent.

Further, exacerbating the problem of poverty is Lesotho's loss of agricultural self-sufficiency. In addition to environmental issues, food production is being inhibited by drought during the growing season and the occurrence of frost even into the summer months. According to the World Health Organization almost a quarter of the population of Lesotho (or almost 500,000 people) required food aid in 2005.

Current population growth is also creating further problems and is unsustainable without significant managerial improvements. The same 30,355 square kilometres containing all the natural resources, has to service the needs of greatly increased numbers - approximately 734,000 in 1950, 1.03 million in 1970 and 2.022 million in 2005.

For up-to-date information and statistics on socio-economic development issues in Lesotho, please refer to the following sources: 
UNDP Human Development Reports Website - Lesotho Country Sheet

Health issues

A still-emerging problem which is a major factor in the fall in human and economic development of recent years is that of HIV/AIDS. Lesotho's epidemic seems to be relatively stable at very high levels, with an estimated national adult (aged 15-49) HIV prevalence of 23.2 per cent - one of the highest rates of HIV prevalence of any country in the world.

The spectre of HIV/AIDS impacts on the healthcare system often already run down by economic crises and inadequate resource allocation. For a country like Lesotho, where there is only one doctor for every 16,400 people (2003) and one nurse for every 4487, this is especially true. Further, HIV/AIDS, along with increased poverty and food insecurity, adds to the high workload of available health workers. Unsurprisingly, brain drain from the public sector is also an aggravating factor with about a quarter of the doctors in private practice, inaccessible to the most vulnerable.

AIDS is the stage of the disease where the immune system has weakened to the extent that these opportunistic infections appear. Thus, the health system also has to cope with both the issue of HIV and also an increased number of other diseases and viruses. In 2000, tuberculosis, pneumonia and gastroenteritis accounted for 20.8 per cent, 10.1 per cent and 6.4 per cent respectively of institutional deaths.

For up-to-date information and statistics on HIV/AIDS in Lesotho, please refer to the following sites:
WHO Lesotho country profile
UNAIDS page on Lesotho

Environmental issues

Land degradation is the one environmental issue in Lesotho of most pressing concern. Continuous farming is one major cause of degradation since it restricts regeneration of nutrients and structure in the soil. Over-grazing is also a major cause with the livestock sector in Lesotho signified by overstocking and range degradation. When one then adds to these factors, Lesotho's mountainous terrain, strong winds and high rainfall it is not surprising that the country is often considered to exhibit one of the worst cases of soil erosion in southern and central Africa.

There are also environmental issues surrounding the Lesotho Highlands Water Project - a huge dam project. Although it offers environmental advantages such as clean energy it also has flooded some of the most fertile land in the and decreased flow of the Senqu River may impact on countries downstream, such as Namibia.

For further information, please refer to the following resources: 
Bojö, Jan, The Economics of Land Degradation: Theory and Applications to Lesotho, Stockholm, The Economic Research Institute/EFI Stockholm School of Economics, 1991. 
McCann, James C, Green Land, Brown Land, Black Land: An Environmental History of Africa, 1800-1990, Portsmouth, Heinemann, 1999.