It was a windy June morning in Ha Lephalo, a tiny highland village overlooking rugged mountains and arid wasteland. Ha Lephalo is 50 kilometres north of Maseru, the capital of Lesotho—a small country landlocked by South Africa. That morning, I met the village chief, a 50-year-old woman named Itumeleng, who introduced herself to me as a biting wind swept across her wrinkled face. Lesotho’s steep, mountainous landscape—the country’s lowest point is at 1,400 metres above sea level—had earned it the epithet “Kingdom in the sky,” she said.
This geographical position has been both a blessing and a curse. Although its majestic highlands make the country a popular travel destination, reaching water sources is difficult because of its rugged terrain. The only source of water for Ha Lephalo had historically been a spring a two-hour trek away across slippery slopes. In 2015, even this source became tenuous because of a shortage of rainfall caused by El Niño—an irregular cycle of climate changes brought on by rising temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. El Niño triggered the worst drought to have hit Lesotho, and southern Africa, in the last 35 years.
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