MASERU, December 18, 2019 – A new Lesotho Poverty Assessment finds that poverty fell over a 15-year period, but poverty remains widespread with nearly half of the population living in poverty and 75 percent of the population either poor or vulnerable to poverty, according to a joint report by the World Bank and the Lesotho Bureau of Statistics released this week.
The report, Lesotho Poverty Assessment: Progress and Challenges in Reducing Poverty, finds that Lesotho’s poverty rate fell from 56.6 percent to 49.7 percent between 2002 and 2017, driven by a reduction in inequality as a result of the expansion of the country’s social protection programs and an increase in wage incomes among the poor. However, poverty and inequality remain persistently high due to the country’s disparities in wage gaps and access to quality basic services.
“Poverty, the most degrading, dehumanizing position any human being can find themselves in, leaves the door wide open for injustice, inequality and the whole gamut of human abuses,” said Hon. Tlohelang Aumane, Lesotho Minister of Development Planning. “Every measure possible must be considered in order to wipe out poverty in our nation.”
Among other key findings, the assessment shows that between 2002 and 2017 inequality declined, making Lesotho more equal than its neighbors. Yet with a Gini coefficient* of 44.6, the country remains one of the 20 percent most unequal countries in the world.
A profile of Lesotho’s poor shows that poverty levels are highest among people living in rural areas, female-headed households, the less educated, the unemployed, large families and children.
Urban areas experienced a 13-percentage point reduction in poverty from 41.5 percent to 28.5 percent, while poverty stagnated in rural areas, decreasing marginally from 61.3 percent to 60.7 percent. Poverty increased in the Rural Highlands to 67.8 percent in 2017, an increase of 10.9 percentage points from 56.9 percent in 2002. It also increased in the Rural Senqu River Valley.
“In Lesotho more than 75 percent of the population is either poor or vulnerable, indicating a need to change the country’s poverty trajectory,” said Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly, World Bank Country Director for Lesotho. “The World Bank stands ready to support the Government of Lesotho in line with our goals of reducing extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity by 2030.”
The report recommends promoting reforms to create an enabling environment for private sector job creation and improving agricultural productivity through transitioning from subsistence to commercial agriculture in the lowlands and foothills and creating a resilient landscape in the highlands.
The report also suggests that productivity-enhancing agricultural inputs and strengthening linkages between farmers and buyers are critical to increase incomes. It points to the adoption of investments in Climate Smart Agriculture, which offers the potential to transform Lesotho’s agriculture into a more productive, climate-resilient and low emissions sector.
*The Gini coefficient is a frequent measure of inequality. It attains the value 0 if all resources are distributed equally, and value of 100 if one person has all resources.