Dam threatens food security in Lesotho

Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - 11:57
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Sechaba Khatleli discovers that his field by the river is going to be flooded by the Polihali dam in Lesotho.

"I can't really expain how I feel", Sechaba Khatleli responds to the news that his field down in Lesotho's highland Senqu valley is going to be flooded by the Polihali dam. Fields in the valley are particularly valuable - they are more fertile, moister, and the valley walls are perforated with caves. The caves are not only home to some of Lesotho's most spectacular heritage - rock art left by earlier residents of the area, but also have a vital practical use. During the harsh winters that affect the highlands farmers shelter their livestock in the caves and can feed them from grass gathered along the river banks which is less affected by the heavy snowfalls. 

Lesotho has been severely affected by climate change - both prolonged droughts during the short highland growing season, and unseasonal torrential rains that can destroy crops and wash away the thin topsoil. Feeding the family has become a greater and greater struggle over the past decade with a particularly disastrous harvest last season. The loss of good fertile land to the dam seems like the latest of a series of blows and Sechaba isn't convinced about the quality of compensation he will receive. It has been promised for 50 years, will it feed his family throughout this period and what will happen to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren after that?

The fields were passed on from generation to generation, and I was also hoping I would pass it on.

Mabusetsa Lenka Thamae, from ActionAid partner organisation, Transformation Resource Centre, points out that although Lesotho receives money for the water that will be exported to South Africa from the dam, the communities directly affected stand to lose out. There is also the irony of small-holder farmers struggling with insufficient rainfall having to make way for a dam which will not provide any water to help them grow food.

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