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Lesotho Highlands Water Project, Lesotho


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.

The World Bank has declared Lahmeyer International, a German company, ineligible to be awarded Bank-financed contracts for a period of seven years, because of corrupt activities in connection with the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP). The World Banks Sanctions Committee found Lahmeyer engaged in corrupt activities by bribing the Lesotho Highlands Development Authoritys Chief Executive, Mr. Masupha Sole, the government official responsible for contract award and implementation. In 2015, Khabang Lejone Multipurpose Cooperative sued Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) in order to force the authority to pay compensation to the affected and displaced populations from the phase I of the project.

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.

The Katse dam is 185 meters high, and the pipeline is 48 kilometres long. The reservoir has 350 million tons of water.

There were 95 tremors in 16 months (1995-1996).

In 2016, the project enters its second phase which includes the construction of a reservoir (Polihali), and a hydropower generation station whose energy will be delivered to South Africa. The completion is expected to be acheived by 2023 [1] and its costs will reach at least $US 1.9 billion [2].

Project area:15000
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
Relevant government actors:Lesotho Government, Botswana and South Africa governments, Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA)
International and Finance InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
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
Potential: Air pollution, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), 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
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:They dont want the construction of the new dams,the old ones should be dismantled and the area restored.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Two dams were built and it is planed to built three dams more.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

PIPE DREAMS- The World Banks Failed Efforts to Restore Lives and Livehoods of Dam-Affect People in Lesotho. International Transport Workers Federation. (Ed.) International Rivers Network, 2001

Conservation, Ecology, and Management of African Fresh Waters. Crisman, Thomas L.; Chapman, Lauren J.; Chapman, Colin A.; Kaufman, Les S. (Ed.) University Press of Florida. 2003

THE irony of the white gold. Akindele, Femi; Senyane, Relebohile. (Ed.) Transformation resource center, 2004

In the high Court of Lesotho, Khabang Lejone judgment, 10/09/2015

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Lesotho Highlands Water Project offical webpage

Lesotho Highlands Water Project

Calls for Bidders for Phase 2 of Lesotho Highlands Water Project, 01/07/2015

Villagers take on mighty LHDA, 24/07/2015

Botswana cuts deal for water from Lesotho Highlands Water Project, L. Frankson, 26/11/2015

[2] LESOTHO: Dam-building continues despite controversy, IRIN, November 2011

[1] Lesotho Highlands Water Project – Phase II, Lesotho to South Africa

Lesotho Water Project, International Rivers

Meta information

Contributor:Lucie Greyl
Last update04/01/2016



Dam part of the Lesotho Water Project


The US$1.5 billion Mohale dam

IRIN, Christopher MacLean