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Lesotho needs enhanced water infrastructure to build climate resilience

Lesotho needs enhanced water infrastructure to build climate resilience
Photo credit: World Bank

15 Sep 2016

Climate change key for Lesotho’s domestic and industrial water security, agricultural production and regional water transfers

Improving Lesotho’s national water resources infrastructure and increasing water security in an environment of drought and floods and future climatic variations, is central to boosting the Government of Lesotho’s efforts to promote long-term sustainable macroeconomic development including food security and job creation, according to a World Bank report released on 14 September 2016.

The report, Lesotho Water Security and Climate Change Assessment, examines the implications of climate change for Lesotho’s future development and economy, focusing particularly on the different water infrastructure investments being considered by the Government of Lesotho. Through assessing the performance of the water management system the study tests how different adaptation strategies would affect water availability for different sectors under a wide range of possible future climatic conditions up to 2050.

The report evaluates the vulnerabilities, challenges, and opportunities in the Lesotho water management system. It offers an analysis on the need to ensure continued development of one of the Mountain Kingdoms most valuable natural assets, its water resources, in order to increase security around the nexus of water, food, and energy along with sustained economic development. This is in line with the World Bank Group’s goal to support the most vulnerable by ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity.

Despite its abundant water resources, Lesotho remains vulnerable to the impacts associated with regular and recurrent floods and droughts, the report revealed. The floods in 2011 were the largest in the country since the 1930s, while the drought in 2015-16 period was the most severe on record. All the climate models indicate that average mean surface temperatures will rise, but precipitation projections vary greatly.

“This analysis will not only help decision makers in Lesotho make robust choices to support their country’s sustainable development, it will help Lesotho in its efforts to develop resilience to overall future shocks in an increasingly unpredictable and variable climate,” said Guangzhe Chen, World Bank Country Director for Lesotho.

“We welcome this very important work. It is the first of its kind and provides us with the evidence that will help us utilize our most valuable natural resource effectively in improving the lives of our people and to develop resilience against future climatic shocks,” Ralechate Mokose, Minister of Water for the Kingdom of Lesotho.

Abundant water, along with high altitude and geographic proximity to major demand centers in southern Africa, is one of Lesotho’s most valuable renewable and sustainable natural assets. In a country characterized by high levels of poverty and income inequality, water contributes roughly 10 percent to overall gross domestic product (GDP). A large portion of this benefit comes from revenues associated with the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) which enables the transfer of water from the water-rich highlands of Lesotho to the economic engine of the African continent in Gauteng, South Africa and contributes to the development of hydropower resources.

“We find that with projected temperature increases, climate change will have an impact on the long-term sustainable macroeconomic development of Lesotho, affecting domestic and industrial water security, patterns of agricultural production, and opportunities afforded through the further development of water transfer infrastructure,” said Chen.

Simulations show that continued development of existing water infrastructure such as the Lesotho Lowlands Water Supply Services (LLWSS) are critical to improving the reliability and resilience of the domestic and industrial sectors. They show that exploring interconnections between the developed water resources through LHWP and linking these to address domestic and industrial demands in the lowlands could help improve the resilience of the existing system. Furthermore, the implementation of the further phases of the LHWP will increase the transfer capacity and also support additional benefits including about 11,000 jobs to be created during the construction period.

The report also found that investments in expanding irrigation could increase incomes and enhance food security. Agriculture in Lesotho is almost entirely rainfed and therefore highly vulnerable to changes in precipitation, undermining efforts to improve food security. But adding 12,000 ha of irrigation could significantly impact crop production with additional maize, beans, peas, sorghum, and wheat ranging of 70,000 to more than 100,000 tonnes per year. This would represent an increase in yields of as much as 50%, depending on the climate scenario.

“Investing in monitoring and enhanced data acquisition will help improve future adaptive capacity and on-farm responses to changes in climate patterns and levels of variability,” said Marcus Wishart, World Bank Senior Water Resource Management Specialist. Adding that a more thorough assessment of the risks and opportunities for Lesotho’s agricultural sector of potential changes in climate, is also essential.

The report also recommends improved data needed to continue to develop more sophisticated analyses of the complex issues around the country’s most important natural resource. Data constrains around agriculture, the economic uses and value of water, climate and hydrology have the potential to undermine future opportunities.

The report found that integrated targeted water infrastructure investments, can increase water security, improve irrigation potential and enhance food security, while sustaining hydropower production without affecting water transfers.

Report conclusions include:

  • Continued implementation of Lesotho Lower Lands Support Scheme, which is key to realizing national development goals

  • Regional water transfers to provide important revenue streams to support economic development and poverty alleviation

  • Multi-purpose development of water related infrastructure which can support expanded irrigated agriculture leading to enhanced food security and rural opportunities

  • Recurrent investments needed to sustain data collection and analyses and provide the information required to inform policy decisions and guide investment planning

» Download: Lesotho Water Security and Climate Change Assessment (PDF, 5.17 MB)


* The World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), established in 1960, helps the world’s poorest countries by providing grants and low to zero-interest loans for projects and programs that boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve poor people’s lives. IDA is one of the largest sources of assistance for the world’s 77 poorest countries, 39 of which are in Africa. Resources from IDA bring positive change to the 1.3 billion people who live in IDA countries. Since 1960, IDA has supported development work in 112 countries. Annual commitments have averaged about $19 billion over the last three years, with about 50 percent going to Africa.

Source World Bank
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Date 15 Sep 2016
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