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Nearly 3 in 10 Basotho Lack Access to Safe, Portable Water

22 March 2024 by Pascalinah Kabi

 Est Read Time: 3 min(s) 56 sec(s)

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In 2021, a Metolong girl’s photo was captured while she was scooping water from a well in her village. Photo Credit: Sechaba Mokhethi/CCIJ

As Lesotho joins the global community today in observing World Water Day, it does so against the backdrop of a stark reality: nearly three out of every ten Basotho lack access to safe, portable water.

“I know there are villages where people now are using water from the wells that are very dirty,” ‘Makamohelo Nyabela informs an audience of over 100 participants at the Lesotho Water Sector Coordination Forum.

The forum, convened in Maseru just two days ahead of World Water Day celebrations, assembled key figures from various realms of the water sector, including government officials, representatives from parastatals, academia, the private sector, and development partners.

World Water Day serves as a global platform to celebrate the significance of water and to spotlight the plight of the 2.2 billion individuals worldwide who lack access to safe water.

In Lesotho, 28 percent of the country’s 2.3 million population grapple with the daily challenge of living without access to safe drinking water.

“They do not have water at all,” Nyabela speaks of Mafeteng communities like Ha Leteketa. According to the 2016 Village Census conducted by Lesotho’s Bureau of Statistics, approximately 239 individuals reside in Ha Leteketa.

Deepak Bhaskaran, the Representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Lesotho, asserts that Lesotho remains significantly distant from realising the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6.

“I just want to reiterate, we are still far away from the SDG 6 of the United Nations and also to mention, the existing services are not climate resilient,” explains Bhaskaran.

Water for Peace

This year, World Water Day is commemorated under the theme “Water for Peace.” The United Nations emphasises that this theme underscores the pivotal role water plays in fostering global stability and prosperity.

“When water is scarce or polluted, or when people have unequal or no access, tensions can rise between communities and countries.”

Paola Amadei, Head of the European Union Delegation in Lesotho, emphasises the urgent need for Lesotho to intensify its endeavours to ensure universal access to safe drinking water for all its citizens.

“With 72 percent of the population with access to basic drinking water services in Lesotho, we need to accelerate pace,” says Amadei.  

On his part, Bhaskaran says collaborate efforts like holding the Water Sector Coordination Forum can make meaningful strides towards improving water and sanitation and hygiene in Lesotho.

“In Lesotho, access to safe drinking water and sanitation and hygiene remains a significant challenge,” says Bhaskaran.

Despite Lesotho being exporter of water, explains Bhaskaran, the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services in communities and institutions remain low.

“Only 72 percent of the population has access to basic drinking water services, 50 percent of those are basic sanitation services, six percent basic hygiene services while 15 percent practise open defecation.

“Furthermore, 80 percent of rural population in Lesotho still collect drinking water from unprotected sources. Regarding schools, 66 percent of schools have no handwashing facilities, 20 percent no working toilets, 37 percent no safe drinking water.

“These figures underscore the urgency of our collective efforts to address water and sanitation issues in the country,” says Bhaskaran.

Amadei points out that Lesotho’s international reputation as the water tower of Southern Africa, which has led to the commodification of water, starkly contrasts with the actual situation on the ground.

“Most people in Lesotho often walk long distances to access water sources or experience malfunctioning water delivery service, or are faced with polluted water sources,” explains Amadei.

She says the EU is aware of this paradox. “For this reason, the number priority for the European Union in Lesotho is to ensure that everyone enjoys the right to safe, drinking water.”

“Currently, over 75 percent of the corporation resources of the European Union in Lesotho are going towards the support of green and resilient economy. The EU is one of the lead donor in the Lesotho water sector.”

Charity begins at home

Tšeliso Tšoeu, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) official, strongly advocates for prioritising the needs of Lesotho’s own citizens before addressing the water requirements of other nations in the region.

“I agree that supplying water to other countries is beneficial, but are we adequately meeting the needs of our own people? Are we ensuring access to water for households in drought-affected areas before prioritising exports to countries like Botswana? While it’s important to assist others, we must not repeat past mistakes. Our primary focus should be on serving our nation first,” emphasises Tšoeu.

Through the multi-phased Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), Lesotho generated M1.4 billion by transferring 779 million cubic meters of water to South Africa in 2023 alone.

Additionally, Lesotho plans to transfer water to Botswana and South Africa under the Lesotho-Botswana Water Transfer Project.

Ministry of Natural Resources Deputy Principal Secretary, Lisema Lekhooana, says Lesotho’s water sector has a detailed water sector programme seeking to ensure that every Mosotho and every person living in Lesotho has access to water at the end of the day.

“But the challenge that we have is this, the fiscus. We have all the plans and programmes, we have got everything as a sector but the fiscus are not enable us to go with the pace that we would love to go,” explains Lekhooana.

Meanwhile, UNICEF Representative in Lesotho, Deepak Bhaskaran, says his organisation has been actively supporting various interventions in Lesotho’s WASH sector.

“These efforts have included policy reviews, the development of strategies and capacity building initiatives aimed at enhancing WASH service delivery both at community and institution levels,” explains Bhaskaran.

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