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Community Voices Demand Solutions for Access to Clean Water

As climate change worsens water scarcity, Lesotho faces access challenges, prompting government initiatives and community advocacy for equitable water provision solutions.

10 June 2024 by Pascalinah Kabi

Est. Read Time: 4m 37s

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A communal protected well built by the Lesotho Rural Water Supply for the Ha Makebe villagers in Sehlabeng-sa-Thuoathe, Berea district. Photo Credit: Pascalinah Kabi/Uncensored News.

A ten-year-old, *Thabo Ntai, places a 20-litre container under the spout of a protected well, where water flows non-stop for 24 hours.

It takes at least five minutes to fill the container, a new and concerning phenomenon for Thabo and the rest of the villagers in Sehlabeng-sa-Thuoathe, who rely on this well built by the Lesotho Rural Water Supply over two decades ago.

According to Thabo, the water flow from the well drastically diminished at the beginning of 2024.

“I think the heat we experienced at the start of this year has negatively affected the water flow from this well. It now takes me longer to fill these two containers,” Thabo told Uncensored News on June 6, 2024.

The Lesotho Meteorology Services reported that Lesotho experienced very poor rainfall from January to March 2024.

“The poor performance can be attributed to El Niño conditions which were dominating,” read an April 2024 statement by the Lesotho Meteorology Services.

It noted that recurring heat waves in February and March 2024 resulted in prolonged dryness, exacerbating the situation. In Sehlabeng-sa-Thuoathe, Berea district, people like Thabo continue to feel the effects of the El Niño-induced drought on their communal water resource.

“I wish my parents had chosen to build our home in an area where people have water taps in their own yards. I hate having this responsibility,” Thabo explained.

Besides taking longer to fill his containers, Thabo sometimes spends at least an hour waiting for his turn.

“Sometimes there are about six people ahead of me, each with no fewer than two containers. Since the water flow has drastically decreased, it takes even longer for my turn to collect water,” Thabo added.

A 2021 study titled Water Security in Africa in the Age of Global Climate Change states that the poor have disproportionately borne the impacts of the climate crisis, facing seasonal weather changes, soaring temperatures, and both floods and droughts.

“Global concerns about the impact of climate change have thrown the spotlight on the availability of secure water sources in the face of frequent extreme weather conditions,” read the study.

Water as a prerequisite for life and stability

The study further argues that water is both a prerequisite for all life and crucial for economic and social transformations, as well as the stability of societies.

“Neither the human nor the natural world can survive without water. Yet there are increasing concerns among scholars, state officials, and development experts about the alarming misuse of water, which has resulted in almost every major river being dammed and diverted, millions of people denied regular and equitable access to clean drinking water,” read the study.

The study also noted that, although climate change issues now figure prominently on the agendas of several governments and major cities worldwide, most have generally treated climate change as “more of an ‘issue’ than a real ‘crisis.'”

“If the depredations of climate change did little to heighten the urgency for states and businesses around the world to find enduring solutions to the challenges of water scarcity, the unexpected virulent COVID-19 pandemic may just have provided the much-needed fillip for authorities to finally make certain that ample responses are put in place.”

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Prime Minister Samuel Matekane’s administration has acknowledged that climate change-induced disasters have tested the country’s preparedness and recovery capabilities.

As such, Finance and Development Planning Minister Dr. Retselisitsoe Matlanyane announced that the Lesotho government will employ anticipatory measures to swiftly respond to high-risk areas in the event of various shocks.

Dr. Matlanyane said these measures include issuing early warnings to the public and developing sovereign risk insurance, with World Bank support, tailored to safeguard the interests of farmers and businesses.

“Promoting climate-proofing measures across all sectors will also be vital in mitigating the impact of environmental uncertainties,” Dr. Matlanyane said when delivering her 2024/25 budget speech in February 2024.

She explained that preserving Lesotho’s biodiversity and natural environmental ecosystems is crucial.

Public sentiment on water provision

Nevertheless, a survey published on June 7, 2024, indicates that 19 percent of the surveyed respondents feel the Lesotho government is doing a poor job of providing water to its citizens.

Afrobarometer, a pan-African, non-partisan survey research network that offers reliable data on African experiences and evaluations of democracy, governance, and quality of life, conducted this survey interviewing 1,200 citizens of Lesotho.

It indicates that 19 percent of the surveyed respondents feel the Lesotho government is doing a poor job of providing water to its citizens. According to the survey, the provision of water ranks fourth among the most pressing issues that Basotho want their government to address. Infrastructure/roads, unemployment, and crime/security outrank water supply on citizens’ agenda for government action.

Little Thabo Ntai, hailing from Lekhalong village located in the Sehlabeng-sa-Thuoathe plateau, emphasised the importance of keeping the Sesotho phrase “water is life” at the forefront of politicians’ and civil servants’ minds when prioritizing service provision.

“We cannot keep saying water is life when people like me must push a wheelbarrow every day to collect water. Our elders must ensure that there are water taps in our homes; that’s when I will believe our country truly understands the value of water,” Thabo expressed.

Approximately 15 kilometers away lies another village, Ha Makebe, within Sehlabeng-sa-Thuoathe. Monekoa Mokone, a native born in Ha Makebe in 1941, urged the Lesotho government to construct a water pipe transferring water from another protected well, also built by the Lesotho Rural Water Supply, to houses in his village.

“We have a site designated by the chief for a water tank to distribute water within the village,” Mokone shared with Uncensored News in November 2023.

“I live with my three grandchildren; they help with water collection. In their absence, my wife fetches water with two or five-litre containers because there’s nothing else we can do.”

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In March 2024, two days before World Water Day, an official from the Water and Sewage Company (WASCO) addressed a high-level stakeholder meeting, revealing that the people of Sehlabeng were excluded from The Greater Maseru Water Supply Project due to budget constraints.

“We have a transmission line passing through Sehlabeng from Ha Senekal to another destination. I hope no one from Sehlabeng is here; they are quite unhappy with us,” the official remarked.

“The project’s concept and cost were drafted in 2008, but due to limited funding over time, certain areas like Sehlabeng were omitted from the project’s scope with hopes of refinancing. However, the Sehlabeng issue remains a pressing concern for us, and we are actively addressing it.”

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