A review of environmental assessments undertaken for phases 1A and 1B of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.
The construction of large dams has become a contentious issue throughout the world. Environmentalists, human rights activists, NGOs, academics and local communities have all contributed to the debate. On the one hand, proponents have highlighted the role of dams in alleviating poverty, improving the quality of life of communities, and their positive impact on local and national economies. Opponents of large dams have argued that the negative impacts on the environment and local communities outweigh any perceived benefits. Methods for assessing the environmental impact of large projects have been used since the 1970's. By 1988 most of Europe had adopted methods such as environmental impact assessment for evaluating the impact of proposed projects. These procedures aim to inform decision makers and authorities of the potential impact that a proposed project may have. World financial institutions, such as the World Bank, have also adopted the use of these assessment methods as part of their evaluation of projects that are seeking funding. This research establishes the environmental standards and requirements that were in place internationally, nationally and regionally, during the planning, design and implementation of Phase 1A and Phase 1B of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. The products of the environmental investigations during successive phases of the project (1986-1999) are assessed to establish whether the parties involved conform to these standards. In addition, the research highlights affected communities' experience of the project implementation, as well as the impact of the project on their lives. The research suggests that in the early phases of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (feasibility and Phase 1A), studies failed to meet environmental assessment standards and requirements, Studies undertaken during Phase 1B represent a considerable improvement and conform more closely to World Bank standards. Although the participation of interested and affected parties has improved, there still appear to be areas of major concern to affected communities. The study highlights the need for greater transparency during the assessment phase of projects, and in particular, more effective involvement of the local communities. Future environmental assessments of this nature are likely to be subject to more stringent requirements including the systematic assessment and quantification of downstream impacts and the incorporation of the costs of all impacts in the project costs. Further phases of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, will therefore need to demonstrate environmental sustainability in the long term.
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