See also:
» 15.02.2011 - New major Lesotho dam ready to be built
» 16.11.2010 - Lesotho's China-made parliament delayed
» 04.06.2010 - Lesotho economy stagnating
» 04.02.2010 - Tarring scenic Lesotho-SA mountain pass causes protest
» 05.10.2009 - Lesotho signs $25 million agreement with WB
» 14.05.2008 - "Water critical for development in SADC"
» 23.11.2006 - German firm finally debarred over Lesotho bribes
» 10.04.2006 - NGO calls for audit of dam construction tenders

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Economy - Development

Crack in Lesotho dam sparks safety concerns

Misanet / IRIN, 1 March - A crack in the wall of Mohale dam in Lesotho, one of the world's highest rockfill dams, has sparked concern among neighbouring communities, according to a local non-governmental organisation (NGO). Heavy rain in the mountain kingdom led to a sudden filling of the Mohale dam, part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, creating a crack in one of the panels of the 145 meter high wall.

"An expert in dam construction from Europe is arriving in Lesotho next Monday to assess the damage ... at the moment it is hard to make any assessments ... because the dam is still filled to capacity. We are, however, hoping that the water level will go done in time to see how far the crack has gone," said Liphapang Potloane, chief executive of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA).

Transformation Resource Centre, an NGO fighting for the rights of communities displaced by the multi-dam Lesotho Highlands Water Project, has expressed concern that should the crack be severe, the resulting seepage could be disastrous.

"We have been to told by the LHDA that the crack is nothing to be worried about, but until a final assessment has been done, we have to keep our fingers crossed," said Mabusetsa Lenka, a spokesman for the organisation.

The Lesotho Highlands Development Authority said they were monitoring the crack round the clock, and a statement on their website noted "the amount of seepage experienced at Mohale Dam is for now within the expected range and significantly less than on other dams of this type elsewhere in the world". Water from Mohale Dam is being transferred into the Katse reservoir, which is 78 percent full.

Constructed on the Senqunyane river in the Thabaputsoa mountain range in southern Lesotho, Mohale is one of two dams that comprise the first US$ 4 billion phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, built to supply water to neighbouring South Africa's rapidly expanding Gauteng province. Gauteng includes the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Water is Lesotho's largest single source of foreign exchange. The country, one of the poorest in the world, earns almost US$ 30 million in annual royalties from South Africa - roughly 75 percent of its budget. However, no agreement has been reached between South Africa and Lesotho to go ahead with the remaining phases of the project.

According to the International Rivers Network, an organisation campaigning against dam constructions, the completion of all five dams conceived under the Lesotho Highlands Water Project would displace 30,000 rural farmers and deprive them of their livelihood.

Meanwhile, the torrential rains in February are causing many moor problems in the kingdom. It is estimated that Lesotho's heaviest rainfall in nearly two decades has destroyed more than a third of the crops in the ground ahead of the April harvest. A local organisation, PELUM, estimates crop losses of 35 percent crop loss, based on weekly updates provided by 8,000 small-scale farmers.

"Most summer crops including maize, sorghum and bean, planted in mid-December last year, were destroyed by the rain as the top soil was washed away," said Moshe Tšehlo, PELUM's coordinator. The Ministry of Agriculture and the government's Disaster Management Authority (DMA) are still assessing the damage.

Heavy rain has fallen since January, following long spells of drought, which has left 20 people dead, according to police reports. Lesotho Meteorological Services said the recorded rain so far in 2006 was twice the amount received over the same period in 1988 - when the country experienced its last heavy storms. The rains are expected to continue into March.

Years of drought has hardened the soil in Lesotho's southern districts to such an extent that the rains have cracked the ground, resulting in the formation of gullies in farmers' fields, and washing away top soil, said PELUM.

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