Monday, June 9, 2008

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Lesotho Highlands

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In 1986, a treaty signed by South Africa and Lesotho initiated the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. The project design included a total of five dams, but committed the parties to only the first two dams and related infrastructure at a cost of over US$1 400 million. The project's purpose was to deliver water to Gauteng Province in the industrial heartland of South Africa and hydroelectric power and income to Lesotho. In 1997, the 185-metre Katse Dam was completed on the Malibamatso River. The second phase of the project including the Mohale Dam was completed in 2003.

The Lesotho Highlands Water Project has been controversial since it began, with concerns about both social and environmental impacts. More than 20 000 people were affected by Katse Dam and 7 400 by Mohale, including loss of homes, farmland, and communal grazing land. The 1991 image (above left) shows part of the project area before the dams were constructed. The 2006 image (above right) shows the areas inundated after both dams were completed. The first two dams, Katse and Muela (not shown) took approximately 1 900 hectares of croplands and Mohale a further 1 000 hectares. Together, the three dams decreased pastureland by 5 000 hectares. In addition to the impact on the immediate area, approximately 150 000 people are affected by reduced stream flow below the dams.
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