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Aid for Basuto displaced by dam

2001-01-18 11:06

Bloemfontein - Far-ranging measures have been put in place to mitigate the effects on hundreds of rural households who have to be resettled for the benefit of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, an executive member of the scheme said on Wednesday.

According to Makase Marumo, chief executive of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority, just under 200 rural households have been resettled so far, with another 230 to be moved before the completion of the first phase by late 2003.

Apart from monetary compensation, the affected families were receiving new homes, in most cases better than their old ones, complete with water and sanitation services. They also received training and money for income generating projects. Schools and clinics were being built as far as the budget allowed.

The communitiesÆ burial grounds were being moved with them, and roads would be built around the project to ensure that they still had access to the same services and amenities they enjoyed before.

Of course, resettling and starting afresh was not always easy, Marumo confessed. Most of the families survived on subsistence farming.

"There will be a dip for about the first five years before they are back on track again," he said.

Families were being compensated a sum in the region of R2 000 per year for each hectare of land lost, for the next 50 years. They could also apply to receive a lump sum, but had to provide proof that it would be used for a viable venture.

The World Commission on Dams proposed last year that communities affected by the erection of dams be given an active role in the projects on top of a guarantee of compensation.

The body's recommendations amounted to making communities de facto shareholders in such projects, Marumo said.

"In our country, we have decided to rather address this matter in a way that will benefit all communities."

This entailed paying 70 million of the local currency into a fund annually to be used for economic empowerment projects country-wide.

Not only the human element, but also the environmental impact of the project, has been taken into account, Marumo told a gathering in Bloemfontein on Wednesday evening.

Plans were underway to "rescue" fauna and flora in the Mohale Dam basin, including a rare fish called the Maluti Minnow, which is found only in the Lesotho Highlands. Medicinal plants used by the affected communities would also be transferred with them.

On progress with the project, Marumo said the current phase had been slightly delayed by slower than expected construction of the 32km Mohale tunnel, leading from Mohale Dam.

Lesotho would, however, be able to provide South Africa with any amount of water it required, as the Katse Dam was full.

The current phase of the project, known as Phase 1B, is expected to boost water supply to South African from the current 17 cubic metres per second, to about 29 cubic metres per second.

Mohale Dam, the second reservoir to be constructed as part of the scheme, will be 145m high upon completion, the highest on the continent. It is expected to be finished by October 2002, followed mid-2003 with the completion of Mohale Tunnel.

A treaty for the construction of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project was signed between South Africa and Lesotho in 1986. It is expected to be completed by 2020.

The scheme involves the supply of water from the Lesotho Highlands to Gauteng through the Vaal River system, while also benefiting Lesotho by enabling the country to generate its own hydro-electric power.

Phase 1A, which has been completed, included the construction of Katse Dam and an 82km tunnel system to supply water to the Vaal River system.

Mohale Dam would in turn feed water to Katse Dam, as would a smaller reservoir to be built on the Matsoku River.

The first water from the project was supplied to South Africa in January 1998, and a total of 505.5 million cubic meters of water was transferred to the country in the 1999/2000 financial year.

South Africa's economic return on its investment in the project, was 16 percent, Marumo said.

Apart from the economic benefits and the promise it held for socio-economic development, the project would also result in a number of indirect benefits such as the creation of infrastructure, roads, and telecommunications networks, Marumo said. The first phase of the scheme was expected to create some 11 000 temporary jobs at its peak.

"But the benefits are not only on the Lesotho side," the chief executive said.

"South Africa can now be assured of water security.

"Next time there is a drought, you will not have to worry as you watch the Vaal Dam going down." Sapa