A promise unfulfilled - life after the dam

Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - 11:51
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Tanki and Malineo Moubane are worse off since they were relocated for construction of the Mohale dam. Their house is substandard, and they can't grow enough food. Will the new phase of dam develoment have the same impact on poor communities?

The treaty between Lesotho and South Africa under which dams are being built in the Lesotho highlands states that, "the standard of living and the income of persons displaced... shall not be reduced from the standard of living and the income existing prior to displacement of such persons". Sadly, this is not the experience of Tanki (87) and Malineo (79) Moubane displaced from Tanki's ancestral home by the building of the Mohale Dam. A new phase of dam building has just started and there are concerns that the lessons of the past have not been learned and that vulnerable communities, reeling under the impacts of climate change will be further impoverished by this vast infrastructure project.

In retrospect their old life seems idyllic - "We were able to feed our family throughout the year", states Malineo. "We used to sell the surplus to neighbours when they needed food", adds Tanki. They didn't have a lot of land, but the fields in the valley were fertile. The first signs were when they saw road construction taking place.

We felt pressured because we were told that a dam was going to be built there...we were forced to leave.

The housing they were supplied with may look more modern than traditional stone-buillt Basotho thatched houses, but they have not provided a better quality of life. Tanki shows where the roof leaks, both in the main living room and the bedroom - previously he would have been able to renew the thatch himself but he doesn't have the money or skills to fix the metal sheeting roof. Also the traditional houses are built to withstand the harsh winters - they both find the modern houses cold and expensive to heat.

Although they receive an annual compensation payment it doesn't take into account the loss of their fruit trees and other communal resources they had available before. "It's not enough to cover our needs." Compensation is also only to last 50 years, whereas land is the basis of rural security and is passed from generation to generation. All those affected are concerned about what will happen to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren once the compensation has stopped. 

And now their lives have been worsened further by climate change. Malineo explains, "When I grew up as a little girl, the weather was good, but now it's surprising us. It used to rain a lot, but now the rain is erratic and we see a lot of wind and it's very dry". When it does rain, it's often at the wrong time of the growing season and sometimes torrential, damaging the crops: "We don't get any fine drops anymore, we get very heavy rain that washes away the soil," Tanki says.

Malineo's conclusion is, "Life is very difficult for us, because we don't have any other means of survival here. We're just hopeless". A far cry from even the modest ambition to 'not reduce' their standard of living.

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