Non-compliant Polihali project must stop: AI

. . . giant rights body says villagers not properly consulted

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – An international rights body has weighed into the long-running feud over compensation of families to be displaced by the Polihali Dam, warning bulldozing villagers could result in human rights violations.

Amnesty International has warned the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) to immediately halt work on Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong because it violates the human rights of affected communities, in a move likely to resonate well beyond Mokhotlong.

“The Lesotho authorities must immediately halt all the work on Polihali Dam until it complies with international human rights standards on evictions. There must be genuine consultations with the affected communities, and compensation for any losses,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, yesterday.

But the LHDA also hit back at Amnesty International yesterday accusing it of making a pejorative statement based on wrong information.

“Amnesty Information was fed wrong information. They are based in Gauteng, South Africa and therefore rely on second information about the project,” Masilo Phakoe, LHDA public relations manager, told Public Eye yesterday.

Amnesty International is a global movement “of more than seven million people who take injustice personally”, it claims on its website.

“We are campaigning for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all,” it also claims.

In its statement on Wednesday this week, it claimed that nearly 8,000 people were at risk of losing everything and facing homelessness and displacement as construction begins.

“The dam construction could be socially and economically disastrous to the almost 8,000 people living in the affected areas,” Muchena said.

He said Amnesty International had seen receipts showing that some displaced people were given as little as the equivalent of just over $1 US Dollar as (approximately M15.00) compensation for being resettled around Mokhotlong – far from their current homes.

This amount is hardly enough to buy a loaf of bread.

“As the construction of the Polihali Dam begins with work on the road that leads to the site, people are already being moved out of their homes for resettlement. Others face losing grazing land for their animals, or the loss of wild fruits and medicinal plants from which they earn a living,” he said.

Phakoe denied that 8,000 people would be affected by the project.

“In delivering the projects, LHDA always strives to minimise the inconvenience and impacts of construction on the local communities and the environment. Not 8,000 people are going to affected,” he said.

He also defended the LHDA’s compensation policy and the compensation rates.

“We have a compensation rate which is used to determine how much each affected household is going to get as compensation,” he said.

“Let us say for example that the rate is M14 for every square of the affected land. If we are going to erect an electricity pole on someone’s land, we will measure the land that is going to be affected, if it is a square meter, we will multiply that by M14.00 to get M14.00 as the total compensation amount.

“The LHDA will then write a cheque for M14.00 but because that amount is very little, the LHDA gives such beneficiaries another M1,050 as inconvenience fee,” he added.

In 2018, residents who are set to lose land designated for the dam said they had been offered 68 lisente for every square metre of their land, a figure they described as paltry.

The residents said the LHDA offer fell far short of their expectations.

They said they wanted lifetime compensation for their land which will be submerged under the dam.

They indicated that the 50-year compensation offered to them by the LHDA was a sharp violation of the provisions of the Lesotho Land Act of 2010.

However, the LHDA said it would only compensate them for a period of 50 years at market rates in line with statutory requirements.

LHDA also launched a broadside at some civic society organisations accusing them of inciting local communities to reject agreed compensation packages in lieu of their displacements.

“We are not compromising on the demand for a lifetime compensation,” Lenka Thamane, National Coordinator of the Survivors of Lesotho Dams (SOLD) told Public Eye on Thursday.

“If LHDA was trustworthy, we would say they continue with the construction while we are still engaging to sort out some of the issues, but because they cannot be trusted, we agree that construction should be halted until affected communities are given the desired lifetime compensation,” Thamae said.

He also emphasised that SOLD will strive to ensure that the project-affected communities are actively engaged in planning and decision-making regarding their own resettlement and compensation.

In April last year, Public Eye reported that an estimated 2,300 households would be affected by the Polihali Dam project and approximately 342 households would have to be relocated for project developments.

This publication also reported that, according to the African Development Bank Group’s resettlement action plan summary for the construction of Polihali, an estimated 1,200 hectares of cultivation land will be permanently acquired, mainly for reservoir establishment and inundation.

The resettlement action plan summary further showed that the population of the project area was estimated to be 46,371 people between 2013 and 2014, with an average of 5.2 persons per household.

Yesterday, Amnesty International was adamant that Polihali Dam, which is part of Phase 2 of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP)– a multi-phased project to provide water to South Africa – could result in thousands of people from about 35 villages losing their homes and livelihoods.

Through the LHWP, developed in partnership between the governments of Lesotho and South Africa, and signed into life in 1986, Lesotho transfers water from its highlands to the industrial centre of Gauteng, South Africa.

The project is considered Africa’s largest water transfer scheme.

It was designed into phases, such that each phase would provide an additional transfer capacity to the previous phase with the ultimate transfer of 70 cubic metres only being achieved on completion of the final phase.

Phase II of the LHWP entails the construction of an approximately 163m high Concrete Faced Rock-fill Polihali Dam to sit approximately one kilometre downstream of the confluence of the Khubelu and Senqu Rivers.

It will also see a 38km long concrete-lined gravity tunnel connecting the Polihali reservoir to the Katse reservoir.

The project is expected to be completed by the year 2025 and will increase bulk water supply rate from 780 million cubic metres per year to more than 1270 million cubic metres per year.

The Polihali Dam will – at full supply level of 2,075 metres above sea level – inundate more than 5,000 hectares of land in the valleys and tributary catchments of the Senqu and Khubelu Rivers.

Phase I, already completed in 2003 and inaugurated in 2004, was split into Phases 1A and 1B – construction of Katse dam and Mohale dam respectively.

Both phases 1A and 1B also involved the construction of infrastructure such as tarred roads, feeder roads, bridges, camps, health facilities as well as environmental and social programmes.

Construction of Katse and Mohale dams reportedly caused the resettlement of thousands of Basotho but the body of research on the social impacts of the project suggests that the relocated people’s living standards were not restored.

In the two books published by the local rights group Transformation resource Centre (TRC), The Irony of White Gold (2004) and On the Wrong Side of Development (2006), the testimonies of dozens of unhappy people who were relocated are recorded.

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