New dam threatens Lesotho village

Thursday, November 24, 2011 - 10:42
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The small village of Polihali, set high above the spectacular gorge of the Senqu river has suffered from climate change like the rest of Lesotho. Poor farmers struggle to survive from thin soils and erratic rainfall. Now work has started to construct a major dam which will swallow up fields and disrupt their lives, but their parched fields will not benefit from the water - it will all be exported to South Africa.

The small village of Polihali, is perched high above the spectacular gorge of the Senqu river and has suffered from climate change like the rest of Lesotho. Poor farmers struggle to survive from thin soils and erratic rainfall.

Acting chief of the village, Mamaloja Polihali, describes how different it was when she first came to the village in 1976:

I look back with pride in that it was a time of plenty... We had food, and everyone was living well

However weather patterns have been severely disrupted - droughts when the rains should come and then unseasonal torrential rains washing away precious topsoil and destroying harvests.

Now work has started to construct a huge dam as part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. Even in the first few days of construction it has already impacted the community. Paballo Polihali's field lies almost on the lip of the Senqu gorge, and the new access road has cut through his land. The promised compensation has not yet arrived and Paballo says, "We have lost trust in them, we  wonder how we are going to go on working with them?"

Many of the village's most fertile fields are down in the valley and will be flooded by the dam. Mamaloja is concerned about the whole concept of compensation - the authorities are setting the values and the terms - and she doesn't think this is right. Also, land is the villagers' only security. What happens when the compensation cash runs out? What will future generations live on?

The ultimate irony is that these water-stressed farmers won't benefit from the vast lake that will be formed to irrigate their remaining fields - all the water is for export to South Africa.

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