Thursday, April 4, 2013

Community legal empowerment brings water to Lesotho community

(Great work by our friends at Protimos and TRC!


Community legal empowerment brings water to Mapeleng community

LESOTHO � After 17 years of deprivation, clean water now flows freely from the top of the Maluti Mountains into the Mapeleng village. This is no small feat for a community that once lived comfortably in the Malibamat�so River valley, now lost under the Katse Dam. Bolstered by the efforts of the �Seinoli Project� lawyers and their transformative legal empowerment initiatives, the Mapeleng community was able to go to the High Court of Lesotho to request that their access to water to be restored. This momentous occasion will be marked by a celebration on Thursday, 4th April 2013, to coincide with annual World Water Day.

The implementation of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), one of the largest infrastructure projects in the world, provides a valuable income stream to the Lesotho economy, through the sale of water from the Highlands to South Africa. However, the construction of dams and transfer tunnels in Phase 1 of the project has adversely affected over 100,000 local people. In Mapeleng village, seismic activity that resulted from the construction of the dam caused damage to houses and property, and also destroyed local wells. In a terrible irony, the new Mapeleng village overlooks the Katse Dam, but it has had no access to clean water for 17 years. The effects of resettlement have been devastating for the community; in addition to the loss of their lands, food sources, livelihoods and social networks, for the last 17 years the women and children of Mapeleng have had to trek up a steep ravine every day, while balancing buckets on their heads, to collect brackish water.

Frustrated by the plight of his community, Chief Khethang of Mapeleng approached the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC). He and his community members became clients of the �Seinoli Project�, a joint public law project between the TRC and Protimos. The Seinoli Project lawyers and their liaison officer worked tirelessly over the last 3 years with the community to seek restoration of their water supply. The Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) responded to Chief Khethang�s summons and in May 2012, Judge Moiloa approved the consent order, by which the LHDA will restore the water supply at Mapeleng. Work on the pipeline was completed in March 2013. Not only does this represent an important victory for Mapeleng and for the Seinoli Project lawyers, other communities are now seeking to use the law as a peaceful and effective means by which good governance and rights under Lesotho law can be implemented. A precedent has been set.

Protimos Director Fiona Darroch said, �Use of the law is a great strength in Lesotho; whilst this issue took courage and leadership from Chief Khethang, the LHDA has shown wisdom and foresight in consenting to restore this water supply, and we hope that many of the problems of the resettled communities in Phase 1 will be similarly solved, with amicable cooperation. This shows that Lesotho can boast good governance, as well as a plentiful supply of water and minerals, which can only benefit its economy in the long term.�

On 4th April 2013, the pipeline will be officially handed over to the community by the Hon. Minister of Energy, Meteorology and Water Resources. Thousands of lives will be transformed by restored access to potable water.This will be a cause for celebration among members of the Mapeleng community, as well as all of those who have contributed to the Seinoli Project. The ceremony will also be attended by representatives from the LHDA, the Water Commission and other Government and civil society stakeholders. Members of other afflicted communities will also attend � this serves as a reminder that there is still much more work to be done.

Note to editor: In the last 24 hours, the LHDA has been invited to commit to restore the water supply in other similarly affected communities. The International Water Day celebrations on 4th April at Mapeleng provide the LHDA with a wonderful opportunity to do the right thing for these forgotten villages.


Fiona Darroch
(+) 797 665 8887

About Protimos: Protimos empowers marginalised communities in developing countries to use the law to protect their social, economic and environmental interests. It does this by supporting the professional development of local lawyers and by improving legal systems. In so doing, Protimos develops sustainable legal resources that enable communities to become active and effective participants in the development of their own futures.

About the Transformation Resource Centre: The TRC is an ecumenical, non-governmental resource centre that advocates for justice, peace and participatory development, based in Maseru. It was established by a South African couple; Jimmy and Joan Stewart in 1979. TRC focuses on the promotion of democracy, human rights, rule of law, water and environmental justice, library and information dissemination, interactive debate and the strengthening of parliament.

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