Mopheme/The Survivor (Maseru)

22 October 2003

Lesotho: LHDA Rescues Maseru From the Water Crisis

Maseru — The decision to release water from the Lesotho Highlands Water Project's 'Muela dam into the Caledon/Mohokare River was taken to address the current worsening water shortage that has hit the Maseru City and its outskirts. It is the first time that the multi-billion Maloti water scheme provides water for consumption by residents of Maseru and its outskirts.

The current severe water shortage crippling the towns along the Caledon/Mohokare River and particularly the capital, Maseru City, its suburbs and the outlying villages has prompted the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA), the administrative arm of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), to release 6,000 litres per second of water from the 'Muela dam into the Nqoe, Hololo and the Caledon/Mohokare Rivers.

The decision to release water from the 'Muela dam, which transfers water to South Africa through the trans-Caledon tunnel was made by the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission, the overseer of the Project, on Thursday, October 16, 2003.

"The Lesotho Highlands Water Project Treaty signed by Lesotho and South Africa allows the Project to provide water to Lesotho if the need arises. We have the right to use water in the 'Muela catchment area since some of the water in the 'Muela dam come from other rivers that flow into the dam and which are not part of the Project," Lesotho's Chief Delegate in the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission (LHWC), Sixtus Tohlang told Mopheme/The Survivor last week. LHWC is made up of representatives of both Lesotho and South African governments and is mandated with the overseeing of the smooth running of the LHWP.

Tohlang said the release of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project's water from 'Muela into the Nqoe, Hololo and ultimately Caledon/Mohokare rivers would not affect the volume of water sold by the Project to the thirsty economic powerhouse of Gauteng province in South Africa as per the provision of the 1986 Treaty.

"South Africa will still get its share or volume of water as agreed by the two governments. Diversion of some of the water into the Caledon/Mohokare River will not affect South Africa's share," Tohlang added.

Lesotho's Chief delegate in the LHWC stated that it was up to the Lesotho government to decide whether the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) or the government itself would pay for the water released into the Caledon river by the LHDA.

"We will give to government the cost of the water released into the Caledon/Mohokare River after the exercise has been completed. Then government will then decide who is going to pay for it. Ours is just to help alleviate the current worsening water shortage. The exercise will continue until sufficient rains have fallen and the water levels in the river are back to normal," he stated.

It is the first that the multi-billion Maloti water scheme diverted some of its water into the Caledon/Mohokare River to relieve the acute water shortage in Maseru, which saw operations of some of the large textile industries and others being disrupted.

Lesotho gets around M17 million in royalties each month for the water sold to the Republic of South Africa through a network of Mohale, Katse and 'Muela reservoirs and through the trans-Caledon tunnel that transfers water into South Africa.

Two weeks ago, the Lesotho Meteorological Services (LMS) said the country was facing a more severe drought than it was originally anticipated.

LMS indicated that drinking water for humans and livestock was a major problem in most areas, and there was a danger of disease outbreaks due to consumption of stagnant water.

Improved rainfall that could possibly end the drought situation, according to LMS, was only expected towards the middle of the month of November this year.

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