Two anthropologists, Paul Devitt and Robert Hitchcock, worked as consultants for the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. Devitt worked on the original Feasibility Study in 1986 and filled the role of field anthropologist for resettlement and development after 1996 (Phase 1B). Hitchcock (Michigan State University) is on the World Bank’s Panel of Environmental Experts for the project. In 2010, they jointly published an assessment of the LHWP’s resettlement program (not required reading).
They argue that “As resettlement programs go, this one certainly ranks above average” (96). While at times critical of both the World Bank and the Lesotho Highlands Development Agency, they also reject the notion that the LHWP’s resettlement program was an unmitigated disaster. According to their assessment, inhabitants from inundated areas were active participants in resettlement and compensation decisions:
“There was certainly a strong element of self-determination in the selection of resettlement destinations, even though one of the most popular, South Africa, was ruled out by the authorities. It is probably safe to say that most people went to the destination of their choice, and that most, eventually, had a fairly good idea of what their choice implied…” (96)
At first, the LHDA placed low priority on the needs of displaced communities. However, the LHDA was soon forced to change its practices by responding to the resettled people. For example, they accepted demands to extend the compensation period by people affected by the Katse dam from 15 years to 50 years (77). Families displaced by the Mohabe dam had the option of receiving cash payments for their old buildings, but most families instead chose modern housing and “were well pleased with the results” (81). The Lesotho government even turned a blind eye to illegal marijuana producers and counted them as maize growers “with unusually high yields and prices” “for compensation purposes” (76).
The anthropologists report having interacted closely with inhabitants. They acknowledge that there was an increase in HIV/AIDs, and that poor, elderly, and sick people had more trouble adjusting to the move than better-off people did. However, they also claim there were “sincere attempts by the Project to avoid harming the weak and the vulnerable” (77). They suggest that falls in income in resettled populations were actually due to external economic factors, like falling employment in mining and garment manufacturing, which affected all of Lesotho (93).
It seems that many of Devitt and Hitchcock’s points are valid, and they seem to strive for a more balanced analysis than either the World Bank or the anti-dam NGOs provide. However, their long-term involvement with the project should not be ignored as a source of bias. They fail to address how the disastrous increase of HIV/AIDS might contradict their thesis that people had a “good idea” of what was in store. Also, their claim that across-the-board unemployment explains resettled people’s falls in income is logical, but it also demonstrates that the Lesotho Highlands Water Project was not as effective generating local jobs as initially heralded.