Thirsty in a land of plenty

Thirsty in a land of plenty

MAFETENG – VANDANA Shiva, a renowned motivational writer, once said: “Something is very, very wrong when people don’t have access to drinking water”. To that some might add that “something is horribly wrong when the people of a country that exports water go thirsty”.
That is the curious case of Lesotho, a country that feeds Gauteng, South Africa’s industrial hub, with water while its people scrounge for the precious liquid.

The people of Ha-Mohlehli and Ha-Joele, two neighbouring rural villages about 15 kilometres east of Mafeteng town, have lived with that irony for decades. Lack of water is their biggest problem. It is what remains upmost in their minds even when they are brought gifts that might help with their other problems.

Just last week the United Nations (UN) and the government were in the village to plant trees as part of the UN’s 72nd anniversary.
Yet after celebrating the planting of 2 030 seedlings on a barren piece of land ravaged by severe soil erosion some of the villagers began to whisper about how they were going to water the trees.

Their impending struggle was apparent as a group of women scooped water from a nearby pond that will soon be dry unless the rains come soon.
Without that pond the investment in the trees will go to waste, one of the women told thepost.
Not very far from the plantation is a tap shared by four surrounding villages.
Perhaps that will sustain the trees?

“No,” is the villagers’ emphatic answer. They say there isn’t enough water to spare for the trees.
In any case, there is no way other villages will allow them to get water for the trees when they themselves spend hours at the tap.
’Manthabiseng Khotleli, a villager, says they are “used to politicians making false promises to deal with their water crisis”.
Governments have come and gone but their plight remains the same, Khotleli says.

Khotleli suspects that many deaths in the villages, especially of children, could have been avoided if there was enough water.
“We are very hungry and we need services now more than ever before,” Khotleli says.
“We ink our fingers (vote) but the people we vote for neglect us and forget we exist until the next election.”
“Trees are a blessing, we understand that in future we will have wood as fuel and life will be easy, but we need more than trees,” Khotleli says.
“We need food. We need projects that can enable us to buy basic human needs.”

Situated about 80km south of Maseru, Mafeteng is a district with a population of 250 000 people.
There are approximately 38 208 households in the lowlands and 3 188 in the foothills. The district is one of the most vulnerable to drought. One in every six people is classified as very poor.

Massive soil erosion continues to rob them of the little that remains of their arable land. Quarrels over food and job opportunities are common.
Taking care of the trees under the government’s food-for-work project, commonly known as Fato-fato, is likely to be the new battle ground for the people of Ha-Mohlehli and Ha-Joele. The plan is that four people from the two villages will be hired for two months to tend the plantation.
That sounds fair because everyone in the villages is likely to earn something from the project at some point.
The challenge, though, is who will be on the top of that hiring list. Everyone wants to go first because there is no guarantee that the project will last for long.

The villagers are worried. “Isn’t this going to build hatred among us?” Khotleli quips. “The two that are employed can’t afford to loan salt or cooking oil to the whole village.” “Is it not better for the government to provide us with water so that we can create some jobs for ourselves too?”
Khotleli says she worries that the jobs at the plantation will stop when the pond dries up.

At the tree-planting ceremony Finance Minister, Moeketsi Majoro, told the villagers that the government was aware of their water problem.
Majoro said the Minister of Water Affairs, Samonyane Ntsekele, had recently met European Union officials in Pretoria to seek funds to deal with the water crisis.

“We have the money, now it is time to work and deliver water to areas such as these,” Majoro said.
“If the money runs short the EU will give us more money after completing the projects we have on the table.”
The minister said Mafeteng is in zone six of the zones created by the Ministry of Water Affairs.
“I assure you that Mafeteng is included in this project. I can see the need for water,”
Majoro said.

Minister of Forestry, Motlohi Maliehe, said the water shortage makes it impossible for the villagers to productively use their land.
He however said with the new water project on the way it is time to start an orchard in the area.
“You have beautiful big fields. It is clear the land has not been ploughed for years now. We need to have an orchard in this area and I am willing to help this community have a big orchard that will assist in poverty reduction,” Maliehe said.

He promised that the orchard will be in the ministry’s budget for the next financial year. “This project will be your project given to you free of charge by the government. The Minister of Small Businesses will be included in this project so that he searches for a market,” he said.
“Basotho need to buy locally produced products. Drink juice and buy fruits that are locally produced,” he says.

Rose Moremoholo

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