The Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), the largest bi-national infrastructure project between Lesotho and South Africa worth 37 billion rand ($2.46 billion), has been delayed until 2027 due to funding pressures, COVID-19 delays and protests in Lesotho, reports Reuters.
Reuters spoke with the Department of Water and Sanitation, who informed the newspaper that the electrical installations, as well as the necessary roads and accommodation, were already being built. Adding that border closures due to COVID-19 would not have a “material impact.”
“COVID-19 disruptions aren’t expected to have a material impact on the planned completion date of project works and commencement date of water delivery to South Africa, in early 2027.”
The LHWP, established in 1984, was designed to provide water for South Africa and money and hydroelectricity for Lesotho thanks to the creation of a sophisticated network of tunnels and dams to divert 2 billion cubic meters of water annually from the elevation of Lesotho to South Africa’s commercial hubs and industries. The project was to have five phases over 30 years.
In 1996, the first phase of the plan was completed and started delivering water. The next was planned to be completed by 2020. It consisted of a 2.3 billion cubic metre Polahli Dam and a 1,200 megawatt hydro-electric plant in Lesotho.
According to Reuters, the department said the 60 billion rand needed by the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA), South Africa’s state-owned company responsible for the Lesotho project, would be generated through further debt issuance.
The department said: “TCTA is planning a debt capital markets programme in the near future to complement funding of capital expenditure and possible long-term refinancing of shorter-dated maturities.”
The severe drought due to climate change that struck the region stifled the water supply to Gauteng in 2019 and 2020 and was aggravated by a creaking infrastructure as a result of funding shortfalls for maintenance and new projects.
In January and February, protests broke out between Lesotho officials and the 35 villages that would need to be relocated to make the project possible due to arguments over compensation packages.
Reuters spoke with two Lesotho community organizations who said they were considering more protests and legal action against the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA).