Storm brews in Hlotse

Lesotho Times - - News - Pas­cali­nah Kabi

HLOTSE — Frail, thirsty and walk­ing slowly and with great dif­fi­culty, 80-year-old ‘ Male­mea Makepe looks at the clear sky and shakes her head in res­ig­na­tion.

It is only 8am, but Hlotse is al­ready un­der in­tense heat, and Ms Makepe trudges along — her desti­na­tion an un­pro­tected well five kilo­me­tres away from her res­i­dence.

Sweat streams down the el­derly woman’s hag­gard face as if mock­ing her predica­ment, but Ms Makepe shuf­fles on, her empty five-litre con­tainer a grim re­minder of why she has to make this par­tic­u­lar 10-kilo­me­tre jour­ney each and ev­ery day.

In fact, Ms Makepe has been mak­ing this jour­ney since Hlotse taps ran dry three months ago due to Le­sotho’s worst drought in 43 years.

Un­well and with no choice but to un­der­take the ar­du­ous voy­age since the grand­daugh­ter she lives with is too young for the chore, Ms Makepe says she can­not re­mem­ber the last time her town, si­t­u­ated 96-ki­olemtres from Maseru, was this des­per­ate for wa­ter.

“It is so painful to watch her make this long jour­ney to and from Motse-mocha well, as she con­stantly falls along the way be­cause even this five-litre con­tainer is too heavy for her once she fills it with wa­ter,” a fel­low vil­lager, ‘Maal­ice Matla, told a Le­sotho Times crew on a visit to the town last Satur­day.

Nar­rat­ing her or­deal to the Le­sotho Times as she trav­elled to Motse-mocha, Ms Makepe said it was in­creas­ingly be­com­ing dif­fi­cult for her to make the trip due to ill­ness.

“I am not feel­ing well, and it was par­tic­u­larly bad to­day. I couldn’t wake-up at 3am as usual so I could be at the well when the wa­ter is still clean, and the queue is not that long,” Ms Makepe said.

The group of women at the well greet Ms Makepe as she ar­rives and al­lows her to ac­cess the wa­ter with­out join­ing the long queue. Ac­cord­ing to the women, this is the se­cond time Hlotse has run out of clean wa­ter, with the first be­ing in 1994. Dur­ing that first drought, Maphea­neng and Lise­meng res­i­dents would fight over wa­ter from Maphea­neng well — the only avail­able source of the pre­cious liq­uid at the time.

“Th­ese women, my fel­low vil­lagers, felt pity for me. That’s why they al­low me to draw wa­ter be­fore them al­though they have been here be­fore me. If it was not for their mercy, I was go­ing to leave this place late in the af­ter­noon due to the long queue, and also be­cause the wa­ter some­times runs out and we have to wait un­til it comes out of the ground again,” Ms Makepe said.

Ms Makepe says she has an eye­sight prob­lem, and has also gen­er­ally not been feel­ing well over re­cent months.

How­ever, de­spite her poor health, she has no choice but to wake up early in the morn­ing for the trip to Motse-mocha, risk­ing at­tacks by crim­i­nals.

“We can only pray and hope that God pro­tects us while we walk in the dark for this wa­ter,” she said de­ject­edly.

An­other vil­lager, Ms ‘ Maal­ice Matla, was still queu­ing for wa­ter when the Le­sotho Times crew re­turned to Motse-mocha at 11am af­ter ar­riv­ing at the well at around 2am.

“I have only filled two 20-litre con­tain­ers be­cause even though I des­per­ately need the wa­ter, I have to let other vil­lagers col­lect some be­fore I can fill my other con­tain­ers,” Ms Matla said.

Ac­cord­ing to Ms Matla, a 20-litre con­tainer of wa­ter is noth­ing for her five-mem­ber fam­ily.

“This con­tainer doesn’t last be­cause we are five in our fam­ily,” Ms Matla said. “And be­cause of the wa­ter short­age, this is our third week with­out do­ing any laun­dry be­cause we just can’t af­ford to spare the wa­ter for that kind of lux­ury. All we care about right now is cook­ing and drink­ing wa­ter.”

Ms Matla fur­ther said she was aware the Motse-mocha wa­ter could be con­tam­i­nated as the res­i­dents share the un­pro­tected well with live­stock.

“It is ob­vi­ous that this is not the clean­est of wa­ter, but th­ese are des­per­ate times and one can’t be too choosy,” she said.

Just one kilo­me­tre from Mot­seMocha, 23 vil­lagers are draw­ing wa­ter from a muddy pud­dle, which is a health time-bomb just by the looks of it.

Among the res­i­dents is 17-yearold ‘Mal­i­fomo K’he­ola who at­tends Joy To The World High School.

“I am orig­i­nally from Motete in Butha-buthe, and it has been very dif­fi­cult for me to con­cen­trate in class due to this wa­ter prob­lem,” K’he­ola told the Le­sotho Times.

“Af­ter col­lect­ing this wa­ter, we boil it to kill what­ever germs it might con­tain. Be­cause of the long dis­tance I have to travel to this dam, and the labour of boil­ing the wa­ter and re­mov­ing the soil in the con­tainer, I am left tired and by the time I go to school, I can’t con­cen­trate on my stud­ies.”

K’he­ola said be­cause the wa­ter is in­ad­e­quate, she uses “just one cup” for bathing, which she said com­pro­mised her hygiene and made her “un­com­fort­able” in class.

An­other vil­lager, Tšepo Mosooang, said the wa­ter from the dam was not suit­able for plants and an­i­mals, let alone hu­man con­sump­tion.

“Be­cause some peo­ple are wash­ing their cars here, this wa­ter has oil par­ti­cles in it, which makes it dan­ger­ous to live­stock, plants and hu­man be­ings,” Mr Mosooang said.

A full­time farmer, Mr Mosooang said lack of wa­ter had also neg­a­tively af­fected his live­stock and crop pro­duc­tion, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for him to feed his fam­ily and keep his em­ploy­ees.

“It has not only neg­a­tively af­fected us in terms of farm­ing or busi­ness, but so­cially as well. I am a mar­ried man. Wak­ing up ev­ery sin­gle day at around 2pm to fetch wa­ter doesn’t sit well with my wife and our re­la­tion­ship is suf­fer­ing in the process,” he said.

Mr Mosooang also warned the dam could dry up “within two weeks” if it does not rain “as a mat­ter of ur­gency”.

He fur­ther warned of a “wa­ter war” in the district.

“Things might be quiet for now but there will soon be fights over this wa­ter, dirty as it is. Some peo­ple are us­ing this wa­ter to wash their cars while oth­ers so des­per­ately need it for house­hold use. The vil­lagers are soon go­ing to or­der the car-washes to stop and the mo­torists are surely not go­ing to ac­cept it be­cause as you see, this is a pub­lic dam,” Mr Mosooang added.

On his part, Leribe District Ad­min­is­tra­tor (DA), Mokha­belane Mo­ra­hanye said the wa­ter short­age was to be ex­pected be­cause of the drought which has af­fected most parts of the coun­try. The DA how- ever, also pointed out the sit­u­a­tion would not have been so des­per­ate had the coun­try been pre­pared for it.

“We have lit­er­ally run dry and it has been two to three months since we last saw a drop of clean wa­ter in this town,” Mr Mo­ra­hanye said.

“Be­cause of the drought, which is largely due to cli­mate change, Hlotse River,which is the district’s main wa­ter sup­ply, has dried up.”

Mr Mo­ra­hanye sug­gested Leribe district des­per­ately and ur­gently needs “ro­bust cli­mate change adap­ta­tions and mit­i­ga­tion education” to en­sure the res­i­dents’ sur­vival.

“This sim­ply means we have to come up with strate­gies to help us save wa­ter for des­per­ate times like the one we are in now,” the Leribe DA said.

“We can­not run away from cli­mate change; it’s time we face it and we can­not do that un­less we are armed with the rel­e­vant knowl­edge on how best we can mit­i­gate and adapt.

“Some of the mea­sure we can take to save our­selves from this scourge is to build tanks, and dur­ing the rainy sea­son, har­vest wa­ter in as many dams as we can build.

“Had we been made aware of th­ese mea­sures by the rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties, we could have pre­pared our­selves for this cri­sis but we have learnt our les­son the hard way, and hope­fully, we won’t be caught nap­ping again.”

Ac­cord­ing to Mr Mo­ra­hanye, fam­i­lies had al­ready lost live­stock due to the wa­ter scarcity and the district was ex­pect­ing dis­ease out­breaks any­time now.

“I was at Mote­bang Hos­pi­tal a few days ago and its op­er­a­tions have been com­pro­mised due to ir­reg­u­lar sup­ply of wa­ter. Be­cause of this dirty wa­ter the res­i­dents have been forced to use, it is only a mat­ter of time be­fore an­other disas­ter strikes in the form of dis­eases such as di­ar­rhea”.

Mr Mo­ra­hanye also said stu­dents are be­ing forced to share wa­ter, which could have se­ri­ous con­se­quences.

“We have not re­ceived any re­ports of dis­ease out­breaks but we are re­ally afraid. There are also se­cu­rity con­cerns as women and girls travel at mid­night to fetch wa­ter, and crim­i­nals might take ad­van­tage of the sit­u­a­tion,” Mr Mo­ra­hanye said, adding the po­lice, of­fi­cials from the Ru­ral Wa­ter Sup­ply (RWS), Wa­ter and Sew­er­age Com­pany (WASCO) and his of­fice had since met to see how best the wa­ter sit­u­a­tion could be ad­dressed.

“As a re­sult of that meet­ing, WASCO is sup­ply­ing Mote­bang Hos­pi­tal and Leribe Cor­rec­tional Ser­vice with clean wa­ter af­ter ev­ery 3-4 days,” Mr Mo­ra­hanye added.

Dur­ing the Le­sotho Times’ visit to Hlotse last Satur­day, some vil­lagers could be seen am­bush­ing a WASCO truck that had come from

Con­tin­ued on Page 9 . . .

Hlotse res­i­dents draw wa­ter from the dam next to temong.

A Hlotse woman col­lects wa­ter from the dam on satur­day.

the town’s main source of wa­ter, Hlotse River, has vir­tu­ally dried up.

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