Hlalefang Lehana comes from a mountain village called Mahlatsa in Lesotho, she is 23; and has suffered in many ways from the climate emergency which is likely to include catching typhoid.

“My country is deeply affected by climate change… “Summer is not Summer anymore, not like we used to know it.”

From November to March, this small African country, surrounded and land-locked by South Africa would normally be entering Summer, yet it is still cold. “We have also had heavy rains and floods which have ruined workplaces. And we’ve seen strange weather with rain and snow in September when that’s never been like that before. The seasons are not going to be same anymore.”

There is very little recent weather data to confirm the role of global warming in these climate effects, but from her lived experience, Hlalefang is in little doubt that the seasons are changing rapidly.

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In 2015, Lesotho suffered from a now well-known climate effect, the El Nino, thousands of miles away. The phenomenon happens irregularly every few years when trade winds cause unusual warming in the Eastern Pacific. It caused a huge drought that affected hundreds of thousands in Lesotho alone. Two years ago, it happened again and around Christmas it might have indirectly given Hlalefang typhoid.

“The town in which I lived while attending school was experiencing water scarcities, people from the area used to get water from swamps as they had no access to clean water. During that time, I got infected with typhoid.

Hlelafang thinks she may have got the disease as her community was forced to share the same water source as cattle as the wetlands dried up, especially as the cattle would often graze and urinate in the same area. She said: “I spent a week being hospitalized and stayed home after being discharged from hospital” with recovery also taking about a week, she missed a lot of schoolwork.

That year also affected Hlalefang’s in other way: “I was an Agriculture student at the time actually, and we suffered major crop losses so had no income because we would normally sell what we made… All wells where we normally collected water from that were nearby had dried up, the area was so dry there was no vegetation and was just full of wind and dust”.

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In Lesotho, when the taps dry up, women like are also at greater danger. They are often told to take dangerous trips to get water from the nearest natural water source, a local stream or river.

She had to join women from her village on an hour long walk to the nearest well to collect water, waiting in long queues and having to travel home in the dark. The paths are

dangerous and lead through forests and a donga – the dried-up riverbed. “there were several instances where herd boys would hide in the donga, sexually assaulting girls on their way back to the village.”

Hlalefang’s says her father, a farmer, has also struggled “Because a lot of people from Lesotho rely on farming and climate changes have really affected them. And government is not always there to provide.”

At Hlelafang’s school, The Holy Cross, they run a home-economics allotment, where they planted crops and sold them. The money raised often went to the community. She said: “we donate to the needy people as a part of building a good relationship with the community around my school”. In 2019 she said, “it was very painful seeing the beneficiaries suffering as we no longer had a source of income”.

The increasingly erratic weather does have benefits for some in Lesotho. There is now more snow in Lesotho’s mountains and new opportunities for skiing and tourism with a huge increase in visitors over the past two decades. But, it doesn’t seem to be translating into help for smaller farming communities who are being hit the hardest.

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Hlalefang acknowledges that the cold weather is good for tourism, some people “benefit a lot.”. However, she demands the focus should remain on the people who live there and who must live off the land and sell their produce. “Yes, other people benefit from climate change but, according to my understanding, agriculture is the art and science of rearing animals and growing crops in order to produce useful product.”

Hlalefang urges people to understand the problems that affect Lesotho: “We are a small country, and we don’t have influence. We are the ones that suffer. But they cannot see our pain.” She said everyone must encourage sustainable aid and change throughout the world by keeping “carbon in the ground”.

Hlalefang is now a leader in her community, as part of the Lesotho Girl Guides and is now helping with a project - Girl-led Action on Climate Change. “As a young leader, I want to be their voice, speak out about the challenges that girl guides pass though”. She feels very strongly about the dangers to women who have to collect water during droughts: “I think we as woman, should empower women to be strong”.


This story was created in collaboration between Hlalefang Lehana and Mairi Whittle.

Hlanefang is from Lesotho and is with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. Mairi is a 3rd year journalism student at Stirling University.