Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The International Politics of Dams with Specific Reference to Lesotho (*)

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The International Politics of Dams with Specific Reference to Lesotho (*)

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Since the 1980s there has been mounting political controversy about the role of large dams in development. Not only are the social, environmental and economic impact of large dams sometimes ignored, but their international and security repercussions are also often not considered. This article reviews the Lesotho Highlands Water Project as a case study in the international politics of dams and dam building. It also addresses the role of water in international relations and national security.

1. INTRODUCTION

For all of its history humankind has attempted to control nature to ensure its survival. One of the best examples of these efforts to provide security and assure survival is to build dams. Dams have played a key role in development since at least the third millennium BC when civilisations evolved around major rivers such as the Nile, the Tigris-Euphrates and the Indus. As early as this period, dams were built to supply water, control floods, irrigate agriculture and provide for navigation. More recently dams have been built to produce hydro-electrical power to enhance economic and national security.

The era of the super dam began in 1935 when the 221 metre high Hoover Dam was inaugurated. Between 1950 and 1980, 35 000 large dams were constructed around the world, the largest being the Nurek in Tajikistan with a height of 300 metres. Since the 1980s there has been mounting political controversy about the role of large dams in development and interstate relations. Not only are the social, environmental and economic impact of large dams sometimes ignored, but the international and security ramifications of dams are also often not considered. (1) This contribution reviews the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) as a case study in the international politics of dams and dam building. It also addresses the role of water in international relations and national security.

South Africa is signatory to nine of the 22 major agreements involving water that exist between the Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states. One of these is the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), which is currently the largest of its kind in Africa. (2) This project, of which the recently completed Katse Dam forms the first part, is also one of the largest and most ambitious multipurpose water projects in the world. Not only will it supply South Africa with water and make the mountain kingdom self-sufficient in energy, but it is also expected to provide Lesotho with an income of US$55 million per annum. (3) In October 1996 South Africa made the first royalty payment of R 100 million to Lesotho. On 22 January 1998 president Mandela of South Africa and King Letsie III of Lesotho inaugurated the completion of the first phase of the LHWP. (4)

2. WATER IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND NATIONAL SECURITY

The total amount of water on earth is reasonably well known and often referred to. Of this, only about 2,5 per cent can be regarded as fresh water and adequate for human consumption. However, the continuous increase in the world's population places tremendous strain on this scarce resource. (5) In addition, environmental issues have become prominent in international politics due to growing concern with the prospects and implications of resource scarcity on human security. The legacy and inadequacies of traditional approaches to security contribute to the neglect of environmental issues, such as scarce water resources, as security issues. Hence, the purpose of this article is not to redefine the concept of security, but to explore the linkages between resource scarcities (such as those pertaining to water) and security threats. (6)

The states of southern Africa form an emerging security community, that is a group of states whose security issues are related to such an extent that the national security of one cannot be considered independently from those of others. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.