LHDA to sweeten ‘deal’ for displaced villagers

LHDA to sweeten ‘deal’ for displaced villagers

Rose Moremoholo

MOKHOTLONG – THE Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) says it will not repeat mistakes of the Phase I water project on compensation policy.

The LHDA says this as it is about to execute Phase II of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) by building Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong.

The dam, like the Phase I’s Katse and Mohale Dams, will supply water to Gauteng Province, which is South Africa’s industrial hub.

The LHDA has been under a litany of attacks from civil society organisations representing communities affected by the two dams over compensation issues.

For example, just last week Seinoli Legal Centre accused the LHDA of dismally failing to honour its own compensation policy.

The Centre said the LHDA, which is the implementing body of the LHWP, had deprived thousands of people of their homes, grazing lands, forests and sacred places and then did too little on the issue of compensation.

The Centre said there was social, economic and cultural impoverishment of the affected communities thereafter.

The Centre charged that for the past 30 years since Lesotho signed the water treaty with South Africa, compensation to the affected people has always either been denied, delayed or just insufficient.

Now, with the building of Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong, civil society organisations have stepped up the pressure against the LHDA saying it is likely to repeat the same mistakes it made under Phase 1.

The Polihali Dam project is going to affect at least 11 000 households in Mokhotlong out of which at least five villages are going to be relocated because they will be submerged in the water.

Additional 12 villages will be relocated because they will be closer to the dam while others will be very far from services because the dam will separate them from such services.

Speaking during the Polihali Dam site tour on Monday, the LHDA’s Socio-Economic Development Specialist, Tšepang Sekhesa, said they had improved the livelihood restoration and social development programmes for this project.

“As LHDA we are bound by law to restore the livelihoods of affected individuals, households and communities,” Sekhesa said.

“We restore to better lives. We don’t want people to be worse off after being relocated and compensated, we want them to be better than they were before the project,” she said.

Sekhesa said they are aware that compensation alone cannot change a person’s life and therefore “we have learned not to leave issues of social development behind”.

The project has drawn up two programmes that shall help communities and households that are affected, she said.

There is a livelihood restoration programme for the affected where measures will be put up to mitigate negative impact that the project will bring upon people.

The social development programme looks into water and sanitation, electricity, education, agriculture and tourism.

However, Sekhesa indicated it is a challenge to get arable land for land compensation for those who want to pursue agriculture once their fields have been taken by the project.

“We can see that the climate has changed and that there are limited programmes of viable livelihood restoration options,” Sekhesa said.

Sekhesa said they are facing numerous challenges in the course of preparing for the project to take off in 2019.

One of such problems is the injudicious use of cash compensation for those affected, “but for this we will provide and are already providing financial literacy to those affected so that they use the money wisely”.

Sekhesa said there is a high level of expectations around employment and development spin-offs but “it needs to be clear that the hiring of people is totally upon the contractor and not LHDA and hiring will depend on the skills and knowledge you have as an individual”.

She added that stakeholders also have a diverse understanding on how the project will work as well as expectations, “our mandate is about water transfer”.

Sekhesa said the only possible way to win in this project is if they regularly engage stakeholders and provide early training and capacity building to enhance employment on construction work.

According to the policy, individuals, families and communities affected will be compensated for individual assets, houses, associated structures and residential land, agricultural fields, grain, food garden, trees and thickets, standing crops, graves, entitlements for communal and public assets, rangeland and useful natural resources, water supplies to mention but a few.

The payment of compensation will grow as the Consumer Price Index grows and a party can decide to have it as a lump sum or in yearly deposits for 50 years.

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