Lesotho Highlands Water Project

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The Lesotho Highlands Water Project is set to claim its rightful place as a blueprint for Africa’s future water resources development and management initiatives. Motlatsi Nkhasi and George van de Merwe explain why

The Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) is a multi-billion Maloti (SA Rand equivalent) [1] bi-national water resources development and management initiative. It was established by treaty signed between the governments of Lesotho and South Africa in 1986, as a priority strategy to reduce poverty, stimulate economic growth and improve the livelihoods of the people of the two countries. LHWP is about harnessing the Lesotho Highlands water behind massive dam walls, diverting the flow and transferring water through tunnels to South Africa, to meet the industrial and domestic water needs of the Gauteng Province, while simultaneously generating hydro power for Lesotho.

Early days

When the idea of transferring water from Lesotho to South Africa was first mooted in the early 1950s by Cape Town-based engineer Ninham Shand, sceptics didn’t give it a chance of ever coming to fruition. Little did they know that by the end of 2008, the Lesotho Highlands Water Project would mark its biggest milestone; a decision by the governments of Lesotho and South Africa to proceed with Phase 2 following the successful completion of Phase 1. Who would have guessed at the time that this would become a truly African success story?

Looking back to the early days of the LHWP, it is clear that water – or rather the lack of it – played an important role in its development. Following the lessons learned from the devastating droughts of the late 1960s, South Africa realised that it had to find an additional, reliable bulk water source to ensure that its industrial heartland was not crippled in future. This led to the creation of a joint technical committee between Lesotho and South Africa in 1978, comprising experts from both countries, which began a full feasibility study.

In 1983, agreement was reached on a more detailed project layout, which required in-depth feasibility studies that were completed in April 1986.


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