Taking issue with African 'water war' allegations The article "US can help stop brewing water wars" (Jan. 27) perpetuates a myth about the Southern African Development Community's military involvement in Lesotho and is less than fair to the World Bank, which actively seeks socially and environmentally acceptable answers on dams.
The writers seek to discredit a successful binational project, the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which is widely viewed as a model of peaceful inter-basin water resource development
The article links the Lesotho project to the SADC armed mission in Lesotho. Such a link was effectively discounted at the time, yet they do not even include the denial in their article. The intervention took place at the specific request of the prime minister and Cabinet of Lesotho, because the Lesotho Defense Force had become destabilized and the security situation was breaking down. This SADC military action, made up of South African and Botswana troops, had nothing to do with the water project. It was no "water war," as is emotively suggested by the writers.
The facts are that work on the project was allowed to continue virtually uninterrupted throughout the upheaval, because all important factions in Lesotho regard the project for what it is: strictly apolitical and vital to the future of Lesotho - and South Africa.
The project is a major socioeconomic plank in the development of Lesotho. Indeed, large numbers of Basotho in the mountains had few options in life before the project built a road network, schools, clinics, and community centers and installed modern communications. Villagers are now receiving piped water, which saves women walking miles to sources that are mostly shared with animals.
The statement that "local people lost their land, access to water, and often their homes with little or no compensation" gives a totally wrong impression. There is, on the contrary, a concerted drive by the project authorities, following a specific instruction I issued after becoming the responsible minister in the Mandela government in 1994 to improve on the stipulations of a treaty forged in the apartheid years, to review every aspect, and, indeed, to leave the affected communities better off than before.
The writers clearly have an ax to grind with the World Bank, which - jointly with the world conservation body, the IUCN - has taken a historic initiative in setting up the World Commission on Dams to probe the very things that have worried environmentalists and others, including me, about big dam building. In any event, the bank funds less than 5 percent of the project in Lesotho, though its support is of obvious psychological value. All concerned are working together: project authorities, governments, nongovernmental organizations, local communities, etc., to fight poverty and ensure development while not compromising internationally recognized environmental and social standards.
The war is against poverty, not over water.
Kader Asmal Pretoria, South Africa South African minister of Water Affairs and Forestry
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