Friday, January 09, 2009

Lesotho Dam Project: Taking From the Poor To Benefit The Rich?

Africas biggest water project to enter second phase

South Africa has approved the second phase of a multi-billion dollar water project in landlocked Lesotho to ensure a secure future water supply in its industrial hub, the water minister said Thursday.

The Lesotho Highlands Water Project, one of the world's largest infrastructure projects under construction, is an intricate network of tunnels and dams diverting water from Lesotho's mountains to South Africa.

"This project ... will at a projected cost of 7.3 billion rand (710 million US dollars/560 million euros) include construction of the Polihali Dam in Lesotho," Water Minister Lindiwe Hendricks told journalists in Cape Town.

Hendricks said the project was a strategic intervention to ensure the water security of the country's richest province Gauteng, which is expected to increase its water requirements by more than 30 percent in the next 20 years.

The project would augment the Vaal River System, which supplies water to 60 percent of the country's economy. According to Hendricks the second phase of the project was chosen as an augmentation method as water could be transferred to South Africa under gravity without pumping, and was the least energy intensive option.

The first phases of the project which was first conceived in 1954, included phase 1A, which began in 1984 and began delivering water in 1998, and phase 1B which began in 1998 and was inaugurated in 2004.

While the project delivered kilometres of tarred roads and power lines and provided thousands of jobs in the largely rural tiny mountain kingdom, it came under fire from civic groups for displacing up to 20,000 people.

Critics argued the project changed once remote mountain communities by introducing AIDS, alcoholism and prostitution, and caused the loss of farming and grazing land.

The project also resulted in convictions of some of the world's largest engineering firms, after massive corruption was uncovered in 1999. More than 12 multinational firms and consortiums were found to have bribed the chief executive of the project, who is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence.
Dams are just another way to commoditize water and displace the poor while bringing pollution and environmental devastation. In the case of the Polihali Dam that is part of the Lesotho project, about 20,000 people have been displaced from their homes after their land was submerged to make way for the dams. If you read the article it claims the reason for this is to "ensure the water security of the country's richest province Gauteng." So in order to supply water to the "richest" province where obviously conservation is not required nor dealing with overpopulation, they take it from the poor in Lesotho by diverting water from their mountain homes. And then on top of this, blame farmers for taking the water and wasting it? Perhaps if these poor farmers had the tools necessary to irrigate crops in ways that would conserve water (drip irrigation) they could share it.

I never understood what gave any government the right to think it could simply take water from the poor simply to send it down to the richest area that will get richer off of selling it. It seems to me for the money they will spend building this dam it could have gone to better use in conservation education and effective irrigation instead of kickbacks and bribes. This seems to be a common tale in the world of dam building and it is a tale that has also led to the destruction of beautiful places in our world and the lives of those that were abruptly and in many instances unfairly changed by those with greed as their true motive.

Will this be the fate of our world landscape? Monstrous dams and desalination plants dotting the beautiful landscapes all because humans do not have the moral will to conserve water with governments looking to make profit from it? And of course, who suffers most from this? The poor.

Lesotho: Tales Of Resettlement

International Portal Of Corruption In Africa

State Dept. page on Lesotho

Look at this excerpt from the State Dept's own website and the use of the word "exploited" to describe its selling of water to South Africa. Lesotho is owned lock, stock, and barrel now by the World Bank: Exploitation indeed.

"Lesotho's economy is based on water and electricity sold to South Africa, manufacturing, earnings from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), agriculture, livestock, and to some extent earnings of laborers employed in South Africa. Lesotho also exports diamonds, wool, and mohair. Lesotho is geographically surrounded by South Africa and economically integrated with it as well. The majority of households subsist on farming or migrant labor. The western lowlands form the main agricultural zone. Almost 50% of the population earns some income through crop cultivation or animal husbandry, with over half the country's income coming from the agricultural sector.

Water is Lesotho's only significant natural resource. It is being exploited through the 30-year, multi-billion-dollar Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), which was initiated in 1986. The LHWP is designed to capture, store, and transfer water from the Orange River system and send it to South Africa's Free State and greater Johannesburg area, which features a large concentration of South African industry, population, and agriculture. Completion of the first phase of the project has made Lesotho almost completely self-sufficient in the production of electricity and generated approximately $24 million annually from the sale of electricity and water to South Africa. The World Bank, African Development Bank, European Investment Bank, and many other bilateral donors financed the project. Lesotho has taken advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to become the largest exporter of garments to the U.S. from sub-Saharan Africa. Exports totaled $437 million in 2007. Employment reached 40,000. Asian investors own most factories.

1 comment:

Nthoesele said...

good point as your looking at the issue in another perspective as most people only see economic empowerment perspective.

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