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Lesotho Highlands Water Project, Lesotho

Phase II of the project is starting and there is no certainty that concerns of the affected population will be taken into account. Failures of phase I risk to be repeated.


The Lesotho Highlands Water Project involved the construction of five dams and over 200 km (124 miles) of tunnels. These dams supplied power for Lesotho and water to the Republic of South Africa. The project was supported by the World Bank in partnership with Impregilo, an Italian company accused of corruption in 2004. At the start of the project, 3,000 hectares of arable land and 1,000 hectares of pasture land were flooded. Local communities did not receive economic compensation and the project worsened their already precarious living conditions.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Lesotho Highlands Water Project, Lesotho
State or province:Leribe and Thaba-Tseka
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Water
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The project involves the construction of 5 dams, a network of 200 km of tunnels and pipelines, and a hydroelectric plant.

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Project area:15000
Level of Investment for the conflictive projectest. 8,000,000,000.00 (all phases)
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:1986
Company names or state enterprises:Sacyr from Spain
Lahmeyer International from Germany
Spie Batignolles from France
Salini Impregilo from Italy
Balfour Beatty LTD from United Kingdom
Ed Zueblin from Germany
Dodin Campenon Bernard from France
Deutsche Babcock Analgen GMBH from Germany
Relevant government actors:Lesotho Government, Botswana and South Africa governments, Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA),
Lesotho Highlands Water Commission (LHWC)
International and Finance InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
African Development Bank (AfDB)
Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA) from South Africa
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Population of Basotho (Bantou people), Transformation Resource Center, Khabang Lejone Multipurpose Cooperative
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Social movements
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Food insecurity (crop damage), Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Air pollution, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Global warming, Noise pollution, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Deaths
Potential: Malnutrition
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in violence and crime
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Land demarcation
Violent targeting of activists
Proposal and development of alternatives:Opponents to the project demand that no new dam be constructed and that old ones should be dismantled and the area restored.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Sources & Materials

[1] International Rivers, Sarah Bardeen, Feb 2016.
[click to view]

[2] LHDA, Lesotho Highlands Development Authority, updated website.
[click to view]

[3] infrastructurenews, 3smedia, June 2020.
[click to view]

[4] DW, Martin Reeh, August 2012.
[click to view]

[5] Independent, Charlotte England, August 2016.
[click to view]

[7] Mmegi Online, Bame Piet, November 2017.
[click to view]

[8] Lesotho Times, Herbert Moyo, December 2019.
[click to view]

[9] Lesotho Highlands Water Project – Phase II, Lesotho to South Africa
[click to view]

[10] LESOTHO: Dam-building continues despite controversy, IRIN, November 2011
[click to view]

Villagers take on mighty LHDA, 24/07/2015
[click to view]

Botswana cuts deal for water from Lesotho Highlands Water Project, L. Frankson, 26/11/2015
[click to view]

Calls for Bidders for Phase 2 of Lesotho Highlands Water Project, 01/07/2015
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Lucie Greyl
Last update13/11/2020
Conflict ID:468
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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