This paper provides an overview of poverty in Lesotho from a longitudinal perspective. The first few sections give a brief background to Lesotho, in particular the physical, economic, political and demographic context are discussed. They show how Lesotho is in many ways a typical sub-Saharan country except that it possibly has less natural resources than most. Against this is the healthy climate and the fact that its proximity to South Africa has meant that the economy has been supported by the migrant labour of Basotho men working in the South African mines.
Despite the fact that this migrant labour is now decreasing, Lesotho has seen a growth in her economy based on the development of her textiles industries and major engineering works. However there is little evidence that this growth is reflected in the incomes and living standards of her people, particularly those in the rural areas and it appears that there is growing inequality in Basotho society. Particular groups are more vulnerable to poverty than others, in particular the long term sick (including HIV/AIDS sufferers), the disabled, orphans and the elderly dependent. The HIV rate in Lesotho is currently in excess of 40% amongst certain groups which has significance for the economy.
There have been several previous poverty studies in Lesotho but all have been crosssectional in form. These were undertaken in 1989, 1993 and 1999. In 2002, 328 of the households which were interviewed in 1993 were revisited. It was found that, in terms of income, most households had not kept up with inflation with the exception of the highest two quintiles. Most of the poorer households had also lost assets. Those households who were in the bottom two income quintiles in 1993 and were still below a poverty line set at that level and inflated accordingly in 2002, were therefore poorer today in relative and absolute terms than in 1993.
There had however been considerable mobility with some families becoming rapidly poorer due to lost paid employment and some moving up due to gains in waged employment or increased productivity of the land. It was found that whilst the presence of a paid worker prevents a household from falling into poverty the loss of this worker can have catastrophic results. Hence Basotho households like to diversify their sources of livelihood and utilise local resources as risk averting strategies.
Wason, D.; Hall, D. Poverty in Lesotho 1993 to 2002.An overview of Household Economic Status and Government Policy, CPRC Working Paper No. 40. (2004) 48 pp. ISBN 1-904049-39-7