El Niño-linked drought brings famine

  • 17/02/2016
El Niño-linked drought brings famine

El Niño has been blamed for wild weather all around the Pacific and now it's also been linked to famine in Africa.

The United Nations says a million children are at risk of starvation because of drought, many of them in Lesotho.

A breaking dawn over Ha Khabele village promises yet another scorching day without rain.

Malepota Makara, 70, wakes her five grandchildren -- most of them orphaned by AIDs.

It doesn't take long to get the three eldest ready for school. That's because there is nothing to eat.

Like everyone else in the village, Ms Makara's crops have failed.

Nine-year-old Litipitso says it's painful to go to school without food, and his grandmother says the drought is the most severe she's ever seen.

Ms Makara knows instinctively what experts have confirmed -- this is the strongest El Niño on record in southern Africa, delaying the rains, and putting 14 million people at risk of starvation.  

El Niño's hot dry conditions on top of already high temperatures have combined to form a lethal cocktail.

A pitiful burst of rain in recent days has coaxed out some greenery but it's a cruel illusion, as it's come too late.

It's supposed to be Lesotho's rainy season -- but rivers which should be flowing deep, are instead bone-dry.

UN humanitarian coordinator Yolanda Dasgupta is worried at what's ahead.

"The rainfall has been delayed to an extent that people haven't been able to plant the crops that they need to survive," she says. "We are looking at people not having enough to eat at least until 2017."

At school, Ms Makara's grandchildren get their one meal of the day -- a bowl of watery porridge and some corn.

But as the country's grain supplies run out, schools are worried they will have to stop their feeding schemes.

Water is a concern too. Lesotho's government trucks deliver water to the villages but it's not enough -- a nearby dam has only two weeks' supply left before it too runs dry.

At home, Ms Makara manages to scrounge a few unripe peaches for the younger children.

Later, when their brothers and sisters return, she rests for the first time. There is no supper once again.

Watch the video for the full CBS News report.