New water project worries rural dwellers

By The Reporter

Residents of Ha Joele, Ribaneng in Mafeteng district are fearful that the impending implementation of the Lesotho-Botswana Water Transfer Scheme will plunge them into the doom of losing their valuable properties. This emerged during the launch of Seinoli Legal Centre’s new website and the screening of two films depicting the voices of the residents and how they might be impacted by the giant transnational project.

The films showcase the impact of water infrastructure projects on host communities in the country, with Ribaneng community being one of them. Lesotho-Botswana Water Project compromises the construction of a dam and water storage reservoir in the Lesotho lowlands. The objective of the project is to undertake a full feasibility study for the bulk water conveyance system from the proposed dam on the Makhaleng River to transfer water to Botswana through South Africa, covering the technical, economic, and financial feasibility of the project. A chunk of villagers who will be affected lives in the area located between Makhaleng and Ribaneng rivers.

The Orange-Senqu Commission (ORASECOM) signed a Memorandum of Understanding in March 2013 to facilitate the implementation of executing feasibility studies on the project. An amount of US$2.68 million (slightly over
M45 million) was sourced from the African Development Bank (AFDB) through ORASECOM. According to documentation by the AFDB, the feasibility studies began in April 2021 with an expected completion date of June 2023.

Commenting on concerns raised by the Makhaleng community in the film, a consultant and senior lecturer in development studies at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Setšabi Setšabi observed that public participation plays a vital role in issues that affect the community. As a result, he added, such participation should be taken into consideration before the commencement of the project as required by international law.

He said the film by Seinoli highlighted the theme of public participation and the anxiety of the people who are to be affected by the project. It also showed how through the grapevine the communities heard that they may be relocated. “These two things highlighted a major gap in access to information about the proposed dam. “Imagine after working so hard being told by the grapevines that your house will be relocated and your ways of living might change. That simply shows how anxious the community is over the project,” Setšabi added.

Further, he noted that Ribaneng community has its own way of life and culture which include farming, rearing livestock, and access to resources such as water and wood. “As a result, changing the way they live is going to be difficult for them especially if they do not have enough information on how the matter will be undertaken,” he warned. Setšabi said the document called The Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement (2018) outlines the major public participation activities before, during, and after evictions.

He explained that before evictions the following activities should take place: appropriate notice, information
dissemination to affected communities, and dialogue with affected communities. Additionally, sensitization on human rights, participation in environmental, social, and human rights impact assessments as well as assessments of all personal assets should also be taken into consideration.

“During evictions all human rights standards must be observed, especially the rights of women, children, people with disabilities, and the elderly,” he observed. Setšabi added that after evictions, governments must ensure that the shelter – housing, food, water and sanitation, medical services, livelihood resources, education for children as well as standards of living are observed. Setšabi urged that the community should benefit from their own developments that are through access to jobs, greater food security, and access to potable water and water for their livestock.

The community also has rights to improved access to sustainable energy, improved road infrastructure, access to rangelands as well as access to fishing in the dam. For his part, legal practitioner Advocate Borenahabokhethe Sekonyela emphasised that public participation is one of the fundamental human rights for the communities to be part of decision-making in matters that affect their livelihoods. He said the legal right to access information is
also critical for the affected people adding that “people perish for lack of knowledge.” He noted: “Full information is required on the standard of living of the people in terms of health, socio-economic status, and others have to be fully documented before the commencement of the project,” He said the community has to benefit through compensation fund after losing their properties, especially land.

“Compensation should also be done because land is permanently taken from communities while compensation is only temporary for a 50-year period. “Future generations of the communities will never enjoy any benefit from the land which the forefathers had,” Sekonyela stressed. Seinoli is a public interest law centre that provides free legal services and support to communities which get affected by the implementation of large infrastructure development projects in the country. The center’s unique approach leverages strategic litigation, advocacy, and capacity strengthening of communities to empower such communities to demand and assert their rights.

In Southern Africa and specifically in Lesotho, the displacement of rural communities from their land, with little or no compensation, represents one of the negative impacts of land-based investments such as the construction of dams. It results in the displacement of rural communities from the land they depend on for growing food, building shelters, fetching water, grazing their animals, and accessing land-based resources.

The launch of the website was said to be a great milestone that will enable Seinoli to share its work with affected communities, members of the public, and other important stakeholders locally, regionally, and internationally. It will also enable the law NGO to receive feedback and learn how best to support the communities and improve services. The website is

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Potential impacts of the Lesotho-Botswana Water Transfer Scheme.

The Lesotho-Botswana Water Transfer (L-BWTS) Scheme is being conducted in terms of a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) signed in 2017 between the governments of Lesotho, Botswana, and South Africa. In terms of this agreement, a dam will be constructed along the Makhaleng river in the southern lowlands of Lesotho. The project shall supply Botswana with water through a conveyance water pipeline going through South Africa. It will further provide the three countries with electricity to complement the system power needs of the local towns in the countries.
Seinoli Legal Centre (SLC), a public interest law centre that protects the rights of communities affected by the construction of dams and large infrastructure in Lesotho, has consulted the 21 would-be-affected communities to determine their awareness of the L-BWT project and the impact thereof. No official information or communication has been made to the communities regarding the project which indicates that the principle of Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) has not been applied to communities to be affected by the project. The standards of living and livelihoods of communities living along the river will be greatly affected, as they will be forced to resettle to make way for the dam and their land and natural resources will be lost to the dam. These communities have a right to be informed and consulted about decisions which affect their lives.
The SLC calls on the project authorities, in particular ORASECOM which is the executing body to ensure that members of communities to be affected are put at the center of this project and that their rights and interests are respected.
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Botswana set to draw water from Lesotho: Is Lesotho ready to venture into another water development?

Lesotho has approved to venture into a water scheme with Botswana and South Africa. The $2.3 million Mega dam project funded by the African Development Bank (ADB) was agreed on by the three countries in 2013. Makhaleng river has been identified as a suitable site for the construction of the dam and the proposed project is currently at its feasibility study phase. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) were signed by the concerned parties to undertake the feasibility studies for the Lesotho-Botswana Water Transfer Scheme, however, none of the host communities identified to be directly affected by this dam have any information pertaining to this project nor activities underpinning the feasibility.
The below article illustrates the potential impact the water scheme poses if proper procedures are not followed by the implementing authorities.
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