America Peace Corps

Water is a big deal in Lesotho. A very big deal.

September 26, 2012

Maggie Day - Lesotho Volunteer On the big-picture side The Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) is a massive Government program resulting from a treaty signed in 1986 which was an agreement to sell water from the Lesotho mountain areas to South Africa.  Visit their website at  for project details.   In addition to financial and hydroelectric power benefits the LHWP has been instrumental in the formation of the beautiful Ts’ehlanyane National Park.   From the LHWP website:

“As part of the Natural Environment and Heritage Program of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) a series of four protected areas has been developed under contract # 604. The objectives of these protected areas are to partially mitigate for the disruption to certain rural communities by the greater Lesotho Highlands Water Project developments, and loss and damage to certain natural resources.

These four areas; The Bokong Nature Reserve, The Ts’ehlanyane National Park, The Liphofung Cave Cultural Historical Site, The Muela Environmental Education Center, and Enviro-Park are supplementary to the existing Sehlabathebe National Park“.

As can be expected from a multi-billion dollar project of this scope it does have its detractors, and concerns such as those expressed by Vusi Mashinini, an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Science at the National University of Lesotho in his June 2010 Policy Brief for the Africa Institute of South Africa found at this site:  are important to address as the project continues.

On the “small-picture” view a/k/a my world in the Ha Lekhoele village located about 10K from Maliba Lodge, water is also a very big deal, in a very up-close-and-personally-challenging way.

I collect my water as all other people in my village, from the small Division of Rural Water Supply installed tap, which draws from underground springs.  The faucet value is broken so it runs continuously although often so slowly you can count the drips.  Someone in the village usually has a large plastic drum there to collect the water during the night, (a bit of local knowledge put to use by any of a number of free-roaming animals).  Throughout the day we line up our 20 liter buckets so that when one fills, you move the next one into position.

For those with time on their hands during the day they stay and visit at the “tap” and the social scene evolves depending on the time of day and school schedules.  Typically the mothers and grandmothers visit on mid-week mornings and early afternoons while school age girls take over the area at most all other times, putting the social time to good use playing games, visiting with one another and seeing the boys who know where to find them.

Drawing water, kha metsi (ka metsee) in Sesotho, is women’s work and is such a time honored tradition that when a daughter is born it is customary ( I’ve been told) to douse the father with a bucket of water to celebrate this new addition to the family workforce.  Girls develop strong necks, perfect posture and pace and, I have to assume, tough skulls, by carrying ever larger buckets of water on their heads.  They max out at, typically, a 20 liter bucket filled to just under the brim while being transported from a variety of distances based on the source, river or tap, to home.  I’ve walked with girls who didn’t spill a drop while walking 30 minutes from the river up a mountainside.   I’m jealous of the water bucket-on-the-head carrying skill and have tried it many times with a personal best of very short distance with a 10 liter bucket and tight fitting lid to keep from getting soaked by my less than perfect posture and pace.  I imagine people commenting on my improved posture and elegant pace when I return home after my time in Lesotho and will credit it casually to my water carrying duties.   I have plenty of practice time as I store the collected water in 2 twenty liter buckets in my Rondeval.    Now the American Environmental Protection Agency estimates an American average per person water use at 378 liters per day.  Here in village it is more like 10 liters per day excluding laundry which is done in the river unless rain barrels are full ( a rare occurrence here for the past 6 months).  10 liters per day for all other water use means extremely frugal use for bathing, washing dishes, cooking, cleaning and purifying for drinking.  Surprisingly it can be done, with those occasionally indulgent showers during work visits to Maliba Lodge and lots of water bucket-on-the-head carrying practice.

About 2 weeks ago our “tap” stopped running.  Not a drop.  Plan B is a small spring at the bottom of our hillside, about 15 minute walk on a fairly steep hillside with lots of small, slippery stones.  The spring is drying up also and is getting stagnant so I’m skipping on it for now, although most are not.  Which leaves Plan C, the Hlotse River.   Those who stay at Maliba and River Lodge know the Hlotse as that beautiful meandering river that carved the lovely valley of Ts’ehlanyane.  For people living in the villages it is all that and a source of water for irrigating their fields, washing clothes and, when all else fails, water for home use and drinking.

Ahh, water for drinking.   An entirely new challenge… here’s how I do it.  Once the water is safely home, stored and settled I transfer about 10 liters to a large pot and boil it for 3-4 minutes. Once it cools it’s transferred to a double decker stainless steel filter unit.  The filter unit has a holding tank with two ceramic & charcoal filters on top and a tank below with spigot for holding treated water that has dripped thru the filters.  Since Lesotho is high,  dry and hot, and my work with the Maliba Community Trust involves walking long distances and several challenging hill climbs most days I need to drink at least 1 liter of water, preferably more.  Add to that water for coffee, cooking, etc. and I’ve learned to see potable water, actually all water as a big deal in my life, a very big deal.

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