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EU pumps M621m for protection of Lesotho’s water sources

BILLY NTAOTE & THUSO MOSABALA

European Union (EU) has expressed its confidence over the ambitious implementation of a project funded to the tune of M621 million for protection of water sources and wetlands that ensure continued supply of water to Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) dams.

Protection and survival of the wetlands in the highlands of Lesotho is a priority for the region as it means an uninterrupted supply of water to Katse and Mohale dams and in the near future Polihali dam, which is under construction.

Currently a skyrocketing water demand in the biggest industrial hub in the South African Gauteng Province is serviced with water harvested in the highlands of Lesotho under the bilateral LHWP project whose Phase one saw the construction of the Katse dam, Mohale dam and a ’Muela hydropower plant.

Katse dam

Now, the initial stage for the construction of a second phase of the project is underway in Mokhotlong where the gigantic Polihali dam is to be constructed.

But the multi-billion Maloti investment into the construction of state-of-the-art dams and other ancillary works maybe a waste if sources of water are not protected.

It is with the vision of ensuring a continued supply of water that the Integrated Catchment Management (ICM) approach came to be formulated as an effort for management of land and water resources in Lesotho, the MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism has learned.

The ICM’s M621 141, 885.00, the Centre has learned, is a total contribution of EU towards financing ICM with EUR 28 million, co-financing of EUR 5 million from Lesotho, Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) contributed EUR 6 million which all amount to a total of EUR39 million.

The project has already started with the construction of Khubelu sponges located in Khubelu Mokhotlong, home to one of the tributary rivers of the Senqu river.

fully constructed Khubelu sponges

The Project is expected to cover the whole of Lesotho starting with six (6) pilot catchments of Khubelu, Hlotse, Senqunyane, Makhalaneng, ’Maletsunyane and Likhetla rivers.

This ICM, according to its project document, seeks to bring different stakeholders and interests in the places where water is harvested, referred to as catchment areas.

The ICM, the Centre learned, brings together the stakeholders and interests into the catchment on “management and sustainable use of water, land and related resources to achieve holistic catchment improvements”.

The ICM document further provides that the successful implementation of the programme is expected to achieve, among others, “protection and conservation of water resources, preservation of wetlands and ecosystems, reduction of soil erosion and desertification, improvement of capacity of rangelands and vegetation cover, rejuvenation of agricultural lands and improved resilience and livelihoods of communities”.

a close look at how Khubelu sponges rehabilitate the wetlands
a developing gully being reversed with sponges in Khubelu

The EU’s high hopes on this project are amid concerns registered by the country’s water ministry over Lesotho’s fluctuating climatic conditions characterised by occurrence of dry spells over recorded time which resulted negative impact on the environment, particularly the Senqu-Orange River basin.

This is said to have threatened the country’s ability to supply water to neighbouring South Africa.

The Senqu-Orange river basin is a transboundary river spreading across south-central Southern Africa forming an international river basin, surrounding most of Lesotho, the urban-industrial complex of Gauteng Province in South Africa, the cereal production areas of the central South African plateau, the arid western regions of South Africa, and the southern portions of Namibia and Botswana.

The basin is also one of the transboundary river basins with a variety of water transfer schemes to supply water to municipalities, industries in South Africa, as well as farms within and outside of the basin.

Apart from it being a host to one of the most industrialised part of South Africa, it supports a range of commercial and subsistence farmers starting in Lesotho unto where it enters the Atlantic Ocean.

But it is the documented and salient threats of climate change that have threatened the resourcefulness of the Senqu river basin and these were greatly marketed during the December 2018 Orange-Senqu River Commission (ORASECOM) forum where Lesotho assumed the chairmanship.

ORASECOM, the four-member – Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and South Africa – shared institution responsible for the management of the resources of transboundary Orange-Senqu river basin.

It is this Orange-Senqu river basin that shall benefit from this multi-million Maloti investment by the EU into the protection of water sources in Lesotho.

Accepting Chairmanship of the ORASECOM, Lesotho’s Water Minister Samonyane Ntsekele noted effects of climate change “continually affect Lesotho’s water resources resulting in water shortages, stress on the water supply systems for our communities and the outcry that we are facing from our people”.

Ntsekele continued that “we have recorded zero flows in some of our rivers since 2003 and in some months of the hydrological years. In this regard water is being released from LHWP systems during such periods to alleviate the areas down-stream that are affected by this drought spells immersing.

“This situation nonetheless demands more initiatives at national and transboundary levels in order to enhance water availability to sustain our demands for our people, agriculture and animals. It is an indisputable fact that without the integration in the management of the basin’s water resources, cooperation is as good as nothing”.

Namibia’s Agriculture, Water and Forestry Minister Alpheus Naruseb buttressed Ntsekele’s sentiments, stressing the need for a collective action by ORASECOM member states.

This, Naruseb said, shall go a long way to protect and ensure sustainable management of water resources of Orange-Senqu river basin, “so that they continue meeting the current needs of our people and that of our future generations”.

Naruseb added: “Coming from Namibia, I know what arid conditions represent, the rainfall focus for this year is gloomy, as it has been predicted that our region will receive normal to below normal rainfall. It is therefore important that we as four sovereign states stand together on how to respond to these emerging challenges of water insecurity brought about by climate change and invariability as it impacts heavily on socio-economic development”.

On the same occasion, Dr Charles Riff representing Climate Resilience Infrastructure Development Facility, registered his concerns on effects of climate change.

Dr Riff said: “the uncertainty caused by the climate change is a threat to all of us and how we take it into account is critical for our objectives of alleviating poverty and leading to sustainable socio-economic growth across the region”.

These concerns over climate change effects have since forced Lesotho and other stakeholders through ORASECOM to device means to coordinate efforts in combating land degradation and depletion of water resources.

Speaking, this time early February 2019, a month after assuming rotational chairmanship of ORASECOM, Ntsekele at the visit of Netherlands Senator Professor Sybe Shaap showed much hope is pinned by the country on the “adopted Integrated Catchment Management approach in managing land and water resources”.

In an interview, the Centre learned from Project Officer Koena Marabe in the Water, Energy & Climate Change Department of the EU Commission in Lesotho that despite the country’s lack of experience in ICM implementation, “we are confident that ICM will be successful if the recommended structures can be put in place”.

Marabe said “In 2015, EU conducted a scoping study to determine areas to be given attention under the 11th European Development Fund (EDF 11)”.

According to the EDF 11 referred to by Marabe, “National Indicative Programme of the cooperation between the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho and the European Union thereafter recommended balanced attention to water resources management and water supply”.

It further reads: “Given the close link between water and the natural environment, the 11th EDF’s involvement in the water sector must also cover environmental issues, in particular climate change, and catchment conservation and management”.

Marabe submits that, “following on the recommendations of the scoping study, the EU has been providing technical assistance to the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) since 2015 to capacitate them on ICM related matters, more especially in coordination since the DWA will be coordinating ICM activities in the country.

“The technical experts that have been working within DWA recommended institutional set-up for effective implementation of ICM.

“Therefore, we are confident that ICM will be successful if the recommended structures can be put in place”.

Marabe adds that, “the project is designed as a learn-by-doing exercise”.

As a result, Marabe revealed “GIZ will be engaged as the implementing agency in agreement with the Government as GIZ has substantial experience, the necessary skills and the means”.

GIZ is short form for the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, or German development agency headquartered in Bonn and Eschborn that provides services in the field of international development cooperation.

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