Lesotho is a monarchy.
The country’s lowest point of 1,400 metres above sea level is the highest lowest point of any country in the world. It has relatively very little forest, covering only one per cent of the land area.
Through the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, Lesotho exports water to South Africa, which completely surrounds it.
The Kingdom of Lesotho is a small landlocked country entirely surrounded by South Africa. It is known as the ‘Mountain Kingdom’, the whole country being over 1,000 metres in altitude.
The country is divided into ten districts, each named after the principal town: Berea, Butha Buthe, Leribe, Mafeteng, Maseru, Mohale’s Hoek, Mokhotlong, Qacha’s Nek, Quthing and Thaba- Tseka.
Maseru (capital, pop. 330,760 in 2016), Teyateyaneng (61,578), Maputsoa (48,243), Mafeteng (30,602), Butha Buthe (30,115), Mohale’s Hoek (25,308), Hlotse (18,840), Quthing (14,177), Qacha’s Nek (9,417) and Mokhotlong (8,784).
There are 5,940 km of roads, 18 per cent paved. South African Railways runs a short freight line into Lesotho, terminating at the Maseru industrial estate. The international airport, Moshoeshoe I Airport, lies 20 km south of Maseru; there are 31 airstrips around the country for domestic flights.
Lesotho is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, African Union, Non-Aligned Movement, Southern African Customs Union, Southern African Development Community, United Nations and World Trade Organization.
Lesotho has two main mountain ranges – the Drakensberg and the Maloti ranges – both running north–south from the northern high plateau. The highest mountain in southern Africa is Thabana–Ntlenyana (3,842 metres) in eastern Lesotho. The land descends to the west to an arable belt, known as the lowlands, where the capital is situated and two-thirds of the population live. The country is well-watered in a generally dry region, the Orange river and its tributary the Caledon both rising in Lesotho.
The climate is temperate with well-marked seasons. The rainy season (receiving 85 per cent of total precipitation) is October to April, when there are frequent violent thunderstorms. Rainfall averages 746 mm p.a. Temperatures in the lowlands range from 32.2°C to –6.7°C; the range is much greater in the mountains. From May to September, snow falls in the highlands with heavy frosts occurring in the lowlands.
The most significant issue is overgrazing, resulting in severe soil erosion and desertification.
Mainly grassland and bushveld, with forest in ravines and on the windward slopes of mountains. Forest covers one per cent of the land area and arable land comprises ten per cent. Forest cover increased at 0.5 per cent p.a. 1990–2010.
The Drakensberg Mountains are the last stronghold in southern Africa of the huge bearded vulture, the lammergeier. Large mammals have largely been eradicated by stock farming, and indigenous ground-living species are now restricted to small antelope, hares and the mountain-dwelling rock-rabbit (dassie).