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LESOTHO FACES WATER CRISIS AS RIVERS DRY UP

By Tšepo Thibankhoe

Maseru, Sept 27 (The Night’s Watch) – Major rivers in Lesotho are drying up little by little.

According to experts, the country risks a serious water crisis in the coming years.

Within Lesotho water is widely regarded as ‘white gold’.

The Ministry of Water Affairs warned in a recent report that the flow in the country’s rivers and reservoirs had been low since October 2012, very low in 2015 and extremely low in 2018.

“… thus the situation kept worsening after 2012,” the ministry said in a report published on September 19, bearing the title: Water Situation in Lesotho.

The Ministry is currently managing and monitoring the network of 105 Flow Measuring stations that are distributed throughout the country.

Lesotho is divided into three hydrologically homogenous river basins, namely, Senqu river basin, Mohokare river basin and Makhaleng river basin.

The Ministry is also monitoring three major reservoirs – the double curvature arch Katse dam, concrete faced rock-fill Mohale dam and the roller compacted concrete Metolong dam.

It revealed in its report that there was still some flow in the Senqu, Mohokare and Makhaleng rivers, “though very small”.

“The river flows were doing fine though they are now approaching a critical condition,” the ministry said.

It further revealed that Katse dam was 16.76 percent full, Mohale dam 32.5 percent full while Metolong was 91.15 percent full.

The nation’s two largest reservoirs, Katse on the Malibamatšo River and Mohale located on the Senqunyane River, were brim full in the early 2000s.

Ever since then, the dams’ levels have never been as low as they became in the latter part of 2016 and early 2017.  Now, two years later, they still have not recovered.

“Our LHWP dams did not spill at all in 2017/2018. We will need more rain in the next season to ensure reliability of supply,” the ministry said.

These ongoing, unprecedented events threaten water supply to Gauteng, South Africa.

Water and diamonds are Lesotho’s only significant natural resources.

Water is extracted through the multibillion-dollar Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), which was initiated in 1986.

The LHWP is designed to capture, store, and transfer water from the Lesotho highlands and send it to South Africa’s Free State and Gauteng, which features a large concentration of South Africa’s industry and population.

Lesotho gets about M900 million a year from selling water to South Africa.

At the completion of the project, Lesotho should be almost completely self-sufficient in the production of electricity and also gain income from the sale of both water and electricity to South Africa.

But as dry conditions and high temperatures persist, there are growing concerns that Lesotho might not have plentiful water to release to South Africa in the coming years.

Warmer winters with less snow in the highlands mean that groundwater is not being replenished by spring melts.

With climate change, more frequent droughts and only brief and often violent rainstorms, experts insist the situation is reaching a critical threshold.

“Normal temperatures are anticipated for the period October 2019 to March 2020 with increased chances of rising to above normal,” said the Lesotho Meteorological Services (LMS) in a statement last week.

LMS said occurrences of strong winds, lightning, thunderstorms and hailstorms “are common weather phenomena and are expected to occur periodically in summer”.

LMS is a state institution which role is to observe and understand Lesotho’s weather and climate and provide meteorological services in support of the country’s needs and international obligations. NW

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