Polihali villagers ready to battle LHDA

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – Villagers earmarked to lose land to the multi-billion maloti Polihali Dam are girding themselves for a Titanic compensation battle with the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA), Public Eye can report.

An estimated 2,300 households will be affected by the implementation of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) Phase II and approximately 342 households will have to be relocated for project developments.

Like before, this move is likely to set the tone for a clash between government and humanitarian groups that advocate justice and respect for the rights of people affected by major capital projects.

An African Development Bank Group resettlement action plan summary for LHWP Phase II shows that an estimated 1,200 hectares of arable land will be permanently acquired, mainly for reservoir establishment and inundation.

The document shows that loss of this arable and rangeland in the lower lying valleys of the Polihali Basin will have a critical impact on the area as land is in short supply and generally degraded.

It reads: “The livelihoods of the communities in and around the reservoir are highly dependent on this land for their food supply and income from livestock rearing (e.g. sale of animals, wool/mohair, milk, etc.). It is also important for other natural resources (e.g. wild foods, fuel and medicinal plants, sand, etc.).”

Communal assets, including rangelands, useful grasses, reeds, vegetable gardens, water, storage tanks, water springs, water supply pipes as well as assets owned by public institutions will also be affected.

Institutional or communal assets likely to be affected, according to the report, include church and school land.

Two primary schools located just above the reservoir demarcation line will be relocated to areas identified in consultation with affected communities and the Ministry of Education.

“Also affected is communal rangelands used as a source of natural resource products by the affected community. In addition, access between villages across the rivers will be impeded due to the barrier created by the reservoir and loss of roads and bridges,” the report reads.

A feeder roads programme will be implemented to reduce the impact on access and movement patterns.

LHWP Phase II, according to the LHDA – the project implementing authority – consists of two separate but related components, water transfer and hydropower generation.

The water transfer component comprises Polihali Dam – a concrete-faced rock-fill dam located about a kilometre downstream the confluence of the Senqu and Khubelu Rivers in Mokhotlong and an approximately 38km long concrete-lined gravity tunnel connecting the Polihali Dam to the Katse Dam.

The exact form of the hydropower component will be determined on completion of feasibility studies.

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.

According to the resettlement action plan summary, published late last month, 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.

The Survivors of Lesotho Dam (SOLD) National Coordinator, Lenka Thamae yesterday told Public Eye that his organisation works to ensure that the affected communities are actively engaged in planning and decision-making regarding their own resettlement and recuperation.

“We also work to ensure that affected communities’ demands for resettlement are satisfied. Resettlement should work for these communities. We are talking about people who are going to be taken away from their jobs, services, and social networks. They should be resettled to places that have basic services such as electricity and energy, water and sanitation,” Thamae said.

The resettlement plan indicates that the LHDA policy framework for stakeholder engagement reflects the requirements set out in the national legislation and its regulations.

It further seeks to achieve a meaningful participation by affected communities in the planning and implementation of the project.

It reads: “The Stakeholder Engagement Plan (SEP) assumed the importance of regular and informed consultations with established structures, and the ongoing engagement of affected communities and people to develop mitigation measures, and compensation and relocation plans that reflect their views and concerns.”

The objective of the SEP is to advance the involvement, collaboration and close coordination of relevant stakeholders at local (household and village), district and central levels.

In February last year, local communities in Mokhotlong vowed to stop construction of the Polihali Dam, if their demands for higher compensation were not met.

The communities demanded lifetime compensation for LHDA for the loss of their land.

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

The 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 displacement ahead of the planned construction of the dam.

According to the resettlement action plan summary, most of the displacement is associated with the reservoir and cannot be avoided without seriously affecting the economic viability of the project.

It indicates that on other project components, measures have been implemented to minimise social impact and household displacement as far as possible.

“On the PWAC (Polihali Western Access Corridor), for example, the numerous changes were made to the alignment to avoid homestead structures prior to its finalisation. Initially more than 39 primary structures (mainly dwellings but also small business structures) would have had to be relocated from the road reserve.

“With the final, approved design, the number of primary structures has been reduced to 11, consisting of five dwelling structures and six general dealer businesses (most of the latter being informal shops,” the document reads.

A similar exercise was undertaken on the Polihali North East Access Road (PNEAR) where the design consultants were instructed to avoid homestead structures as far as possible, adds the document.

“The 132kV and 33kV transmission line routes were, likewise, revised on a number of occasions to avoid the servitudes crossing dwellings. As a result, only one household has to be relocated for the construction of the lines.

“A decision was also recently made by the project authorities to move the proposed Polihali substation from its present location in the village of Malingoaneng to avoid construction and operation impacts on the community. Six households that have earlier been earmarked for relocation because of the substation developments will therefore no longer have to be moved,” it reads.

Signed into life in 1986, the three major purposes of the multi-billion dollar, multi-dam LHWP, according to Yvonne Mort-Braun in a paper Doing Development are “to transfer water from rural highlands of Lesotho to the industrial centre of South Africa, to provide Lesotho with hydroelectric energy, and to ensure the environmental sustainability of the project areas and the restoration of the living standards of the project affected people”.

Two of the dams built to date as part of Phase I of the project – Katse and Mohale – caused the resettlement of thousands of Basotho.

Phase I, completed in 2003 and inaugurated in 2004, was split into Phases 1A and 1B.

The main physical features of Phase 1A are the Katse Dam, the transfer tunnel from Katse to ’Muela Hydropower station, the Muela Hydropower station and appurtenances and the delivery tunnel to the border with South Africa.

Phase 1B involved the construction of the Mohale Dam and the diversion tunnel to the Katse Dam.

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

Phase 1B, wrote Paul Devitt and Robert K. Hitchcock in a paper Who Drives Resettlement? The Case of Lesotho’s Mohale Dam, resulted in the displacement of over 320 households and the inundation of villages, fields and grazing lands.

According to the Mail & Guardian, the body of research on the social impact of the project suggests, by and large, that living standards of the resettled people were not restored.

The Mail & Guardian reported in September 2014 that in two books published by the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), The Irony of White Gold (2004) and On the Wrong Side of Development (2006), the testimonies of dozens of deeply unhappy “relocatees” were recorded.

Both books concluded in similar vein:

“… years after the completion of resettlement, the poverty of the communities affected by the (water project) has worsened … Death rates are higher (and) the communities have been dying from HIV/Aids in especially high numbers.”

Devitt and Hitchcock noted in their paper issued in July 2010 that the restitution of livelihoods, social structures, and a sense of belonging in the new place is a venture fraught with uncertainty.

They noted that: “Even specialists with long experience in this field expect and invariably find innumerable problems and setbacks, especially in rehabilitation of the weakest and most vulnerable people.”

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