MASERU — Lesotho and Botswana have signed an agreement that will pave way for a technical feasibility study that will investigate options for Botswana to draw water from Lesotho.
Water, Energy and Meteorology Affairs Minister Timothy Thahane told a media briefing in Maseru yesterday that South Africa also signed the memorandum of understanding witnessed by Namibia.
The four countries make up the Orange Senqu River Commission (ORASECOM) which was set up in 2000 to advise member states on the development, use and conservation of water resources of the Orange-Senqu river basin.
A statement released by regional water ministers said they “recognised the need to collaborate in addressing acute water scarcity especially in Botswana with a vision of equitable sharing of benefits from the resource”.
Thahane told the media yesterday that the agreement will be implemented in three phases.
“The first phase is a study that will identify among others the possible routes, transit beneficiaries, possible challenges and risks and impacts on existing water resources,” Thahane said.
“If the study shows technical feasible solutions, the subsequent phases will be a fully detailed investigation on identified projects.”
In the event that the project is deemed feasible, Botswana which is 80 percent semi-arid, could find itself buying water from Lesotho to enhance its economic development.
Lesotho could channel the water through its giant neighbour, South Africa.
The Orange-Senqu River basin is encompasses all of Lesotho, half of South Africa, a quarter of Namibia and southwestern Botswana.
Lesotho and South Africa supply over 95 percent of the water in the basin.
Lesotho however has a bigger share of the water since a major chunk of the Senqu-Orange River passes through the centre of the country, thus making it a key source of the four member states.
The signed communiqué adds that ORASECOM has been undertaking studies and field projects that will culminate in basin-wide Integrated Water Resources Management plan that will ensure “effective, efficient and sustainable management of water resources of the basin and meet water needs of the parties”.
“Monitoring of the project will be done through regular reporting at the ORASECOM meetings. All the parties express a shared vision of position ORASECOM as a best role model of cooperation on a shared water source,” the communiqué adds.
Asked whether it would not be detrimental in the long run for Lesotho to sell water to Botswana when scores of Basotho do not have access to clean water, Thahane said in the event that an agreement was reached “it will have to be mutually beneficial to all involved”.
“As I’ve said, the study is going to assess the availability of water and whether its transfer to Botswana will not leave Basotho in despair. Whatever decision reached will have to be mutually beneficial,” Thahane said.
“Mutual benefit is derived where one party gives water while the other in return gets royalties.”
The minister said the challenge facing Lesotho with regard to providing residents with water, especially those in rural settings, lay mainly with areas in which villages are situated.
“Our villages are mainly situated on mountain tops where residents are also very few and far between. Bringing them water from the lowlands is financially draining,” Thahane said.
“This means we should review the manner in which our villages are built so that we’re able to provide all Basotho with water.”
Thahane added that although Lesotho enjoyed a major portion of the Orange-Senqu waters, of critical importance was how it was managed because “poor management could result in its disappearance”.
“Water in the region comes mainly from Lesotho, yes, but how we manage it is very critical for the future,” Thahane said.
“If we do not manage our water sources and allow animals to deplete our pastures the water will eventually perish, affecting not only Lesotho but the region in general.”
The challenge, Thahane said, was for Basotho to manage their pastures and protect the water sources as well as “rethinking the usage of water”.
“We also need to construct reservoir dams for the preservation of water that we can use during times of drought,” Thahane said.