15 August 2011
The second phase of the multi-billion rand Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which could be the answer to the water challenges facing South Africa, was unveiled in Maseru last week. Construction is expected to start in 2012, with water transfer estimated to begin in late 2018.
The new phase was unveiled by Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa and Lesotho Natural Resources Minister Monyane Moleleki on 11 August, exactly a year after President Jacob Zuma urged the Lesotho government to speed up the process.
Described as a milestone by both governments, the initiative was established by a treaty signed between the two countries in 1986 to stimulate growth and economic development through water resource development projects.
Dams, water transfer tunnels
In order to make the project more manageable, work has been carried out in phases, with phase 1A comprising the construction of the Katse and Muela dams, as well as water transfer tunnels. This phase was implemented between 1990 and 1998 and is in full operation.
Phase 1B consists essentially of the Mohale Dam, Mohale Tunnel and Matsoku Tunnel and Weir. Construction on this phase began in 1998 and was inaugurated in 2004.
Phase two includes the construction of a 165-metre high, 2.2-billion cubic metre capacity dam at Polihali in the Mohotlong district. It will consist of two major reservoirs enclosed by a 145-metre high dam.
Savings realised from the success of the project have been split between the two countries, with a majority percentage being allocated to Lesotho in the form of royalties from South Africa. These payments are estimated to average at approximately R7-billion over the next few years.
Social development, renewable energy
Apart from stimulating economic growth in the two countries, officials said the water would meet the industrial and domestic water needs of Gauteng province, while simultaneously generating hydropower for Lesotho. Construction of the second phase is expected to start in 2012, with water transfer estimated to begin in late 2018.
“We believe that this is a project, as big as it is, if it is delivered on time, it will deliver the goods as it should,” Molewa at last week’s signing ceremony in Katse Village, about 100km from Lesotho’s capital, Maseru.
She said steps were also being taken to ensure that communities and the small business sector from both countries benefit from the project with Moleleki, saying Maseru stood to attract about R1.5-billion annually from the scheme.
A planned hydropower plant, which will eventually produce more than 1 000 MW of electricity, will also allow Eskom to access this power from Lesotho in a deal to be signed by the power utility and that country’s officials.
Moleleki added that the agreement will not only focus on hydropower, but will see both countries exploring other renewable energy alternatives, including solar and wind power.
Ensuring enough water for the future
Analysts have said South Africa could start facing critical water shortages as early as 2020. Also, despite service delivery efforts made since 1994, the availability of water is very unequal in most parts of the country, with a considerable part of the population still without access to safe water and adequate sanitation.
Authorities say it is the dwindling water supplies in the country that had forced Pretoria to look elsewhere for this resource.
Lesotho, on the other hand, remains one of the least developed countries in the world, with no major natural resources except for water, of which it consumes less than 6% domestically.
“Much has been said about development … [but] we forget that we are a water-scarce country that needs this resource urgently to address our growth needs, and Lesotho is providing that opportunity to us,” said Molewa.
“This does not only strengthen our relations with our neighbours, but will ensure that we have enough water for the future.”