Commissioning of the first phase of the Lesotho Highlands water project has taken place in the presence of Lesotho’s royal family and South African President, Nelson Mandela. The complex of works was constructed over a period of 72 months by an international joint venture led by Italian company Impregilo. Other members of the consortium included German company Hochtief; Bouygues from France; UK companies Stirling International and Kier International; and South African companies Concor and Group 5.

The Lesotho Highlands project is one of the most ambitious water schemes ever undertaken in the African continent, incorporating the construction of a series of dams and tunnels for the provision of 70m3/s of water to South Africa. The generation of 72MW of hydroelectricity will also make Lesotho self-sufficient in power.

Work on the first phase of the project included building the Katse dam which, at 185m high, is Africa’s highest dam. It impounds a reservoir storing 1950M m3 of water and, through its 37km-long delivery tunnel, the Katse dam will supply 18m3/s of water to South Africa. This is expected to meet the country’s water demands until the year 2004, when the second phase of the project will be well advanced.

Finance for the US$350M Katse dam was provided by commercial and export credit loans from Italy, France, Germany and the UK. Local currency requirements were met by local capital market issues, commercial loans and the Development Bank of South Africa. The World Bank also participated in the scheme’s first phase by partly financing feasibility studies.

The next phase of the project, which is already underway, includes construction of the Mohale dam and 40km of interconnecting tunnel.