The Kingdom of Lesotho

Published by Wade Publications CC

Environmental Conservation

With climate change now sadly a reality in Lesotho, the country is vulnerable to environmental hazards such as floods and droughts, which severely compromise national food security while also threatening protected areas of significant biodiversity.

The development of the ‘green’ economy remains central to environmental and resource protection, which is at the core of long-term economic growth and the success of both the agriculture and tourism sectors, not to mention the goal of poverty eradication. Government’s plan is to increase the production capacity of clean energy for local consumption and export, and to promote sustainable and labour-intensive land management programmes.

This position is supported by Lesotho’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (2012) developed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which calls for the incorporation of sound environmental policies and land use planning into strategies for sustainable growth in order to reverse environmental degradation and adapt to climate change. The paper also underlines the importance of protecting water sources through integrated land and water resources management, and means by which the environment’s natural resilience to climate change can be improved. The conservation of biodiversity is another highlight, along with the exploration of environmentally friendly production methods and carbon trading.

FRAMEWORK FOR ACTION

Formulated in 1988, the National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP) established the framework for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of natural resources. This was followed by a National Environment Policy in 1998, which laid the legal foundation for the Environment Act of 2008. The Act provides for the protection and management of the land base against the negative impacts of infrastructure development, including roads and other infrastructure that cause excessive land disturbance and soil erosion. The Act also introduced Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), audits and project monitoring.

Other important legislation includes the Forestry Policy (1997) and Forestry Act (1998). The latter makes provision for land to be made available for forestry activities, including fuel wood production, as a means of preserving indigenous shrubs and trees that protect land from soil erosion. The Act also provides for the protection and preservation of forests.

Mainstreaming the environment
The lead government department in charge of coordinating Lesotho’s environmental issues is the Department of Environment, which falls under the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture. During February 2014, an inter-ministerial dialogue was held on mainstreaming the environment, with a particular focus on waste management, to help stakeholders develop a common approach towards environmental management.

Recommendations arising from the dialogue can be divided into the following broad categories:

  • Activation of the National Environmental Council (NEC) and all subsidiary committees, as provided for in the current Environment Act (2008), as a means of coordinating national action for cooperative mainstreaming of environmental considerations
  • Establishment of an Environmental Fund, managed by the NEC, to support all environmental programmes, with funds to be sourced from instruments such as environment levies, Government subventions, licences and permits, and regional and international donors
  • Establishment of an independent environmental agency along the lines of the structures suggested in the repealed Environment Act of 2001, in view of the current institutional challenges faced by the Department of Environment
  • While legislation has been promulgated on regulations such as those on Ozone Depleting Substances and Health Care Waste Management, several critical regulations are still required on hazardous waste and chemicals, and these are to be developed and promulgated as a matter of urgency
  • Following the signing of the Libreville declaration, regional initiatives are in the spotlight, and at the local level the implementation of the National Plan of Joint Actions by the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture must be given top priority
  • As regards international agreements, the designated national authorities or national focal points for all ratified conventions are to be coordinated by the independent environmental agency, while relevant ministries remain responsible for policy formulation
  • Continuity and feedback is also emphasised, and this is to be facilitated through the establishment of a multi-stakeholder task team representative of all relevant sectors, which shall meet regularly to follow up on decisions and report to stakeholders

ENVIRONMENTAL INITIATIVES

As reported in the 2014 African Economic Outlook, produced by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), African Development Bank (AfDB) and UNDP, Lesotho has made progress in its efforts to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on environmental sustainability, although progress on increasing forest coverage has been limited. While sustainability has been mainstreamed through legislation and the National Strategic Development Plan, implementation has been slow and lack of environmental data contributes to poor governance. Insufficient capacity and inadequate coordination and oversight of the sector undermine efforts to protect the environment.

Among the obstacles to sustainable development in Lesotho are issues such as land degradation, reliance on biomass fuel and climate change. Although Lesotho produces negligible levels of carbon dioxide, dependence on rain-fed subsistence agriculture and water resources for export earnings and hydroelectricity make the country vulnerable to climate change.

Lesotho’s National Strategic Development Plan (2012/13-2016/17) compiled by the Lesotho Government, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), identifies the following as primary areas of focus:

  • Reversing land degradation and protecting water sources through integrated land and water resource management
  • Improving national resilience to climate change
  • Promoting biodiversity conservation
  • Increasing clean energy production capacity and environment-friendly production methods and exploring opportunities for carbon trading
  • Improving land use and physical planning as well as increasing densification and ring-fencing of towns to avoid human encroachment on agricultural land and other fragile ecosystems
  • Improving the delivery of environmental services, including waste and sanitation, and environmental health promotion
  • Improving coordination, enforcement of laws, information and data for environmental planning and increasing public knowledge and protection of the environment

Biosafety
Ongoing projects under the Department of Environment include the implementation of the National Biosafety Frameworks Project. Funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), this four-year project has the objective of helping Lesotho strengthen its institutional and technical infrastructure in order to meet the obligations of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, and put in place a national system to guide decision-making on Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) by the completion of the project in 2015.

Waste management
In view of the heightened profile of the green economy across the globe, waste is gaining importance as a resource, with the reclamation of waste material a priority. In Lesotho, Government initiatives in waste management have included, among others:

  • Establishment of the Committee on Waste Management (COWMAN) which advises on all waste management issues
  • Assessment of both blue effluent and sludge from the textile industry
  • Assessment of types and quantities of domestic waste, and the infrastructure and human resources required for proper waste management in Maseru city
  • Piloting of the Integrated Solid Waste Management Programme in Maseru city in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

In addition, local entrepreneurial initiatives in waste management have taken place, such as those by the National University of Lesotho to find profitable uses for off-cuts from sandstone cutting works and the sludge from textile industries.
 
New initiatives will see Lesotho embrace innovative ways of reclaiming waste for reuse and recycling, as well as developing new products from waste, as a means of realising the true value of this commodity. It has thus been recommended that Government find ways of supporting enterprises in this sector through financing, the provision of collateral and enforcement of laws. As the responsibility for solid waste management rests upon local government structures, it is recommended that a local government monitoring unit be established and that the councils be capacitated with human resources, equipment and facilities to effectively implement the Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan.

Clean and renewable energy
Over two billion people rely on wood energy for cooking and/or heating in developing countries. This is the case in Lesotho as well, as although the country produces clean energy in the form of hydropower, this is not yet accessible to most citizens.

In the 2013/14 National Budget Speech, Government announced its intention to address the electricity supply needs of the economy by exploring other power generation options, and is being assisted in this regard by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC). While wind energy is seen as a viable source of clean energy, there are fears that a proposed wind farm in the Letšeng area could have a negative impact on vulture populations, particularly the vulnerable Cape Vulture.

During 2014, Lesotho was one of nine low-income African countries chosen to receive funding and operational support in renewable energy services as part of the Climate Investment Fund’s (CIF) Scaling Up Renewable Energy in Low Income Countries Programme (SREP). The AfDB serves as the implementing agency for the programme, which will receive up to US $300 000 in funding.

Prior to this, the Lesotho Renewable Energy Based Rural Electrification (LREBRE) project, which ran until April 2012, was involved in reducing the country’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions through renewable energy technologies as a substitute for fossil fuels in rural areas not reached by the national electricity grid. Funded by the GEF through the UNDP and the Lesotho Government, LREBRE listed a number of achievements, particularly in the field of solar energy use.

Small Grants Programme
As a corporate programme of the GEF, the Small Grants Programme (SGP) provides financial and technical support to environmental protection initiatives which prioritise diversity conservation, climate change abatement, land degradation and other issues aimed at improving the economic status and wellbeing of citizens. The programme is implemented by the UNDP, with grants conferred on NGOs, CBOs and recognised community bodies.

The SGP was originally established in Lesotho in December 2007, and boasts a portfolio of 16 projects implemented by local NGOs and CBOs. It has contributed to the establishment of community botanical gardens, increased awareness of renewable energy technologies and enhanced the capacity of NGOs and CBOs in project development and management. The current phase of the programme runs from 2011 to 2014, and is funded by the GEF in an amount of US $1.2 million.

The programme has had a notable effect on soil and water conservation, and has seen more than 50 species of plants conserved and protected. In addition, over 4 500 recipients have benefitted in a variety of ways, developing skills in construction and maintenance of biogas digesters, poultry production, plant propagation and production of crafts from waste paper and plastic. The breeding of indigenous chickens to enhance the success of other poultry initiatives has the potential to be up-scaled and replicated.

Sustainable Land Management
Funded by the GEF and UNDP to the tune of US $2 million, a Sustainable Land Management (SLM) Project is running from 2010-2014 in Maseru District. Being implemented in conjunction with the Ministry of Forestry and Land Reclamation, the project tackles issues such as soil management, natural resources on cultivated land and the management of the ‘range resource complex’ (pastures, household fuel biomass and plant resources). 

CONSERVING BIODIVERSITY

The UNDP reports that there are 94 threatened species in Lesotho. Eight of these are critically endangered, while four are endangered, 14 are vulnerable and 60 are not sufficient. The list of protected flora under the Historical Monuments, Relics, Flora and Fauna Act (1967) has been increased from 13 in 1969 to 31.

Factors threatening biological diversity include habitat loss and destruction, introduction of alien (exotic or non-native) species, human-generated pollution and contamination, population growth, exploitation due to over-hunting, over-fishing or over-collecting, and global climate change. In Lesotho, specific threats are overgrazing, unsustainable harvesting (particularly of medicinal plants), uncontrolled fires, urban and agricultural encroachment, invasive alien species and pollution. Increased activity through tourism also poses potential threats.

Among several conservation areas created in Lesotho by the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) in the 1990s to restore some of the biodiversity lost as a result of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) are: Katse Botanical Gardens, Tšehlanyane National Park, Bokong Nature Reserve and the Liphofung Cave Cultural Historical Site. These are discussed in greater detail in the chapter on ‘Tourism’.

Concern has been expressed regarding the second phase of the LHWP, which will see the construction of a dam at Polihali and the Polihali-Katse transfer tunnel, in terms of possible negative effects on the environment. According to the fourth draft of the LHWP Phase II Compensation Policy, a panel of environment experts will be appointed to provide guidance to the LHDA on the project’s social/resettlement and environmental programmes.

Maloti-Drakensberg Transboundary World Heritage Site
The Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA), incorporating Lesotho’s oldest national park (Sehlabathebe) as well as the adjoining uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park in South Africa, was proclaimed in 2001. The Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation and Development project was launched by the two countries’ environmental ministers and the World Bank, the implementing agency of the GEF’s US $15.24 million project. Management plans for the Lesotho component as well as the TFCA as a whole were completed in 2008.
 
This uniquely biodiverse region is now a world heritage site, following the June 2013 inscribing of Sehlabathebe National Park as an extension to the uKhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Site in South Africa by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. The Maloti-Drakensberg Transboundary World Heritage Site covers an extent of 14 740 square kilometres, encompassing the mountains that span the north-eastern border between Lesotho and South Africa – the magnificent Maloti and Drakensberg ranges. The area is an important centre of endemism for montane plant species and is home to more than 2 500 species of flora and in excess of 600 sites of culturally significant and historically rich San rock art. In addition, this is the primary water catchment area for both Lesotho and South Africa, and its wetlands serve as an essential water purification and storage system.

The National Heritage Resources Act of 2011, that supersedes the Historical Monuments, Relics, Fauna and Flora Act of 1967, provides for the preservation and protection of all engravings and paintings on stone commonly known as the San paintings that are found in Sehlabathebe National Park.

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