The Lesotho Highlands Water Project involved the construction of five dams and over 200 km (124 miles) of tunnels. These dams supplied power for Lesotho and water to the Republic of South Africa. The project was supported by the World Bank in partnership with Impregilo, an Italian company accused of corruption in 2004. At the start of the project, 3,000 hectares of arable land and 1,000 hectares of pasture land were flooded. Local communities did not receive economic compensation and the project worsened their already precarious living conditions.
The World Bank has declared Lahmeyer International, a German company, ineligible to be awarded Bank-financed contracts for a period of seven years, because of corrupt activities in connection with the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP). The World Banks Sanctions Committee found Lahmeyer engaged in corrupt activities by bribing the Lesotho Highlands Development Authoritys Chief Executive, Mr. Masupha Sole, the government official responsible for contract award and implementation. In 2015, Khabang Lejone Multipurpose Cooperative sued Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) in order to force the authority to pay compensation to the affected and displaced populations from the phase I of the project.
UPDATE: Just like the first phase of the widely criticized Lesotho Highland Water Project (LHWP), the LHWP II is likely to result in similar catastrophic multidimensional impacts. Those who are supposed to benefit from the project are put in danger, as it was confirmed when five construction workers were shot dead in a strike for a just salary and fair working conditions .
At present, the implementation of Phase II again requires the acquisition of approx. 5,000 hectares of land from local communities, that will be flooded by the Polihali Dam . In fact, Phase II includes a reservoir in the valley and thus a catchment area of the Sengu and Khubelu rivers . The Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) makes no secret that this will cause resettlements with potential negative impacts on the socioeconomics of the local communities as it was already the case in Phase I .
To cope with South Africa’s increasing demand for water, additional water is planned to be supplied from the Polihali Dam. Therefore in 2020 the LHDA has now sped-up the infrastructure works of Phase II by starting the excavation works of two diversion tunnels .
The LHWP rather led to the impoverishment of Lesotho’s communities than to any improvement and turned the communities into permanent aid recipients . This is also true in relation to water resources and the rights of the affected communities, especially when coping with droughts. Residents have been denied the access to water from the vast Katse Dam, which is necessary for farmers to irrigate their crops . Farmers still struggle to make a living since their land was flooded, which also impeded its cultivation and eliminated the grazing land of their livestock. This has to do with fact that Lesotho somewhat is considered the ‘Water Castle’ of South Africa. The stored water is intended to supply only South Africa while the communities around the dam rely on springs that barely trickle during drought periods .
In addition, Sangomas communities, which require flowing water for their rituals, are hindered to practice their traditional way of living . Nevertheless, the Government of South Africa, the other party in the conflict over water access, is not pleased either with the ongoing operation of LHWP II. Besides the fact that Lesotho agreed with Botswana to supply water through LHWP, the LHDA fails to augment the delivery of water to the important Gauteng province in SA . When signing the agreement, it was intended to deliver water from LHWP II in 2019 . Even though the water supply from Phase II is critical for water provision in the region, the LHDA indicated that Polihali Dam can only be completed by 2025. Eight-year delay in implementing the project Phase II, however, does not only threaten the water security of SA, but also stands as a symbol for the failed dam project.