Showdown over Metolong water project
‘If we can’t have the water, then no one else should. We will dig up the pipes and shut down the project,’ declares Ha Motloheloa villager.
HA MOTLOHELOA villagers are threatening to “destroy” the Metolong Dam project unless government allows them unrestricted access to the water “as a matter of urgency”.
The dam, built in Thaba-Bosiu on the South Phuthiatsana River about 35 kilometres from Maseru, was completed this year to augment water supplies to Mazenod, Morija, Teyateyaneng, Roma and Maseru.
Construction of the giant project commenced in 2008 through funding from the governments of Lesotho and South Africa, European Investment Bank, Saudi Fund for Development, Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, OPEC Fund for International Development, Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, the US Millennium Challenge Corporation and the World Bank.
However, residents of Ha Motloheloa village, through which the water-pipes pass, are not happy that government has allegedly reneged on its promise to provide them with water from the dam.
The villagers have since started vandalising the pipes and related infrastructure to access the water, and on Tuesday threatened “a complete shutdown” of the project unless government makes Ha Motloheloa a beneficiary of the multimillion-maloti project “as promised in 2013”.
The deal, the villagers told the Lesotho Times, was allegedly reached at after residents had denied workers laying the pipes access to their fields unless the government included them among the project’s beneficiaries.
According to the villagers, under the verbal agreement, they were supposed to start accessing the water in August this year but this date was moved to October. They further claim government postponed the date again, this time to March 2016, which they said was unacceptable hence their decision to vandalise the infrastructure and illegally access the water.
Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO) and Metolong officials have been fixing the damaged infrastructure, but the villagers continue to destroy it and accessing the water. The first illegal access point was next to the Ha Motloheloa chief’s residence, but this opening was eventually closed down by WASCO and Metolong officials. In response, the villagers opened another illegal outlet next to the local mortuary. The authorities sealed off this opening once again, but the residents opened two more outlets in Hloahloeng and Ha Mothae villages, which remain “operational” to this day.
Several villagers on Tuesday expressed anger at government’s failure to provide them with water from a dam that is “just a stone’s throw away” from their homes and took the Ministry of Water’s Chief Information Officer, Maieane Khaketla, to task over the issue. Mr Khaketla and several other officials had gone to Ha Motloheloa to address the villagers over government’s concern regarding the continued vandalism of the Metolong infrastructure.
But during the interaction, the villagers demanded the Hloahloeng and Ha Mothae manholes remain open or they would start violent protests that would have dire consequences for the project.
“We dare them to close these manholes. We will not take this lying down, not after the government lied to us in 2013. They promised us unlimited access to clean water just like the people of Mazenod, Morija and Maseru,” one of the villagers, who requested anonymity for fear of arrest her, told the Lesotho Times during Monday’s gathering.
“It is an open secret that we hired a professional from WASCO to open these holes. This is why the water is not spilling all over the place so at least government must be thankful that we were very considerate about it. We could have simply destroyed this thing and taken the water as it spilled all over the place.
“But what I can promise government is if they persist denying us this water, we will repeat what we did in 2013 when we blocked the man road and denied Metolong employees access to our land as they laid the pipes for this project. This time, the protests will be violent; we will go as far as cutting supplies to these five towns. How do they expect us to feel when our fields were destroyed for this project and we are denied the water? We have a drought that has made the water situation in this area extremely desperate so we will do anything to save our families and livestock because we have the right to this water.
“We only have access to a communal tap after every three days, and each family is expected to take 20 litres a day. If we hadn’t opened these manholes, how were we expected to survive?”
Another villager said government had been “lucky so far” that they were only interested in accessing the water and not destroying the Metolong infrastructure.
“Here we engaged professionals to open these manholes. In Ha Mothae, the villagers used a chisel and axe to open the pipes and access the water. This is how serious the situation is and anybody threatening to shut us down is also threating to shut the entire project down,” he said.
“We know so much about this project; we know where the pipes are and it will only take us hours, if not minutes, to dig them up and cut them up and destroy it.
“Right now, we are simply demanding access to this water passing through our village but if we can’t have it, then no one else should. That is the ultimatum; there is no other way.”
However, Mr Khaketla told the villagers that breaking the law and vandalising public property was unacceptable.
“Government is worried by this vandalism of public property. We understand that there is a water crisis due to the drought which has affected this region, and the country at large, but this does not justify this criminal act. It is not proper for you to steal water or destroy this property,” Mr Khaketla said.
“Government is making efforts to make sure you access the water so this is really uncalled for.”
Asked by the Lesotho Times if the Metolong project was ever meant to supply Ha Motloheloa with water, Mr Khaketla said: “This is not an urban area so Rural Water Supply is the one responsible for this village. We can’t just open pipes to supply Ha Motloheloa with water. There is a study being conducted to see how we can open the pipes for them without causing any problems or disruption to the supply system.
“Only after the study has been completed can we be in a position to know when and how these people can access the water.”
Metolong Community Liaison Officer, Mohlolo Lebusa, also told the Lesotho Times that the dam was only meant to supply Mazenod, Morija, Teyateyaneng, Roma and Maseru with water.
“Ha Motloheloa was never part of the Metolong project’s mandate,” Mr Lebusa said.
M79m for drought relief
GOVERNMENT has set aside M79 million to ensure communities reeling from lack of clean water are supplied with the precious liquid.
A total of 260 307 Basotho from 281 villages across the country have no access to clean water due to the prevailing drought which government says is Lesotho’s worst in four decades.
Addressing Ha Motloheloa villagers this week, the Ministry of Water Chief Information Officer, Maieane Khaketla, said at least 400 tanks are needed to supply affected communities with water. Part of the M79million would be used to purchase the bowsers, he added.
“As we speak, cabinet is meeting and discussing this issue of lack of water,” Mr Khaketla said.
“For the ministry to supply clean water to all the affected areas throughout the country, we need M79 million and part of this money is going to buy 400 tanks. These tanks are going to be used to transport the water to the affected communities.
“It is government’s responsibility to supply its people with basic amenities, hence this initiative to take water to all the people who are going to need it as the country faces this projected severe drought.”
Mr Khaketla also pleaded with members of the public with water tanks in their backyards to allow government to fill them with water for the benefit of their neighbours.
“We need to help each other in this dire situation; let us be good neighbours. The government knows what you are going through, but please be patient with us as we are doing everything possible to make sure you access clean water,” Mr Khaketla said.
“This is not going to be a cheap exercise. Our ministry has already borrowed 40 tanks from Local Government to transport water to needy communities throughout the country.
“This severe drought is actually a state of emergency and we need to act decisively; we need each other.”
Mr Khaketla also revealed areas such as Mokhotlong and Butha-Buthe have since been hit by disease outbreaks, mostly diarrhea, due to lack of clean water.
Speaking at the same gathering, an official from the ministry’s Rural Water Supply division, Fusi Lifoloane said government was trying to find a lasting solution to the water crisis.
“Only a few villages still have access to clean water and to show how severe this drought is, even the wetlands are drying out,” Mr Lifoloane said.
“Let us set aside our political differences and concentrate on finding solutions to our current water problems.”