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Highlands project brings mixed blessings

The giant Lesotho Highlands Water Project, built to pipe water down from the mountain kingdom to South Africa, has brought mixed blessings for the surrounding communities.

A community activist in Lesotho told IRIN on Tuesday that the controversial project has had both positive and negative consequences. “But overall the consensus is that the effects have been generally positive,” he said.

He told IRIN that one of the significant pluses has been the infrastructural development in the surrounding area. Through the project, three main access roads have been built. “Previously it took days, sometimes even weeks to reach some of the more isolated villages, but now in most cases these communities can be reached in just one day,” the activist said.

The construction phase of the project began in 1998 and is scheduled for completion in 2003. It is located about 60 km east of the capital Maseru in the upper Senqunyane River catchment area. The main component of the project will be a rock fill dam located at Mohale and a reservoir with a total catchment of an estimated 874km (square).

The project has become one of the largest employers in the country. “Men who might have otherwise been unemployed now have a source of independent income. That is income that is not solely linked to the agriculture sector. These households are no longer only dependent on the productivity of the land and are not at the mercy of the weather,” the community worker added.

Linked to the increased rate of employment in the area has been the skills and training that the communities have received. “We have to remember that the level of basic education in these areas is not very high, denying many people the opportunity to improve their skills and knowledge base,” the activist said.

However, there have also been serious social costs, one of them being the dislocation and the relocation of communities that has had to take place. A social worker told IRIN that people have been removed from an environment that the majority had lived in for generations.

“We have seen entire communities breaking up and the resettled communities many times don’t incorporate the extended family,” she said. The social worker added that many people, especially the elderly have had difficulties in adapting to the peri-urban environment. “This kind of disruption has completely changed the social fabric of many communities.”

“Because we have seen an influx of outsiders we have also witnessed the rise in the kinds of social problems that were not really present before,” she added.

It is not only the human inhabitants of the area that have been affected. According to a 1997 environmental study, river flows in the lower Sequnyane have fallen and there is concern over water quality. The report added that some habitats which are home to rare and endangered species are also threatened.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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