Landscapes of a National Natural Resource in Lesotho, the World’s First Water-Exporting Country


ACLS Fellowship Program




For a century, Lesotho acted as a labor reserve for South Africa’s mining industries. As mining employment collapsed in the 1990s, Lesotho signed a treaty with South Africa to build a series of dams and divert water to arid Johannesburg. Lesotho had become the world’s first water-exporter. As water rose in national importance, however, its very nature came into question, inciting debates about how it flows across the landscape. Conservation experts worry that soil erosion and reservoir sedimentation might imperil this massive water project. They blame rural livestock owners who turned to livestock production in the absence of mining jobs. Rural people, by contrast, blame soil erosion on climate change, citing increased drought and destructive thunderstorms. In effect, Lesotho’s water-export economy has exposed a crisis of environmental interpretation. This project scrutinizes this debate, showing why humanistic insights are crucial to emergent water regimes in the Anthropocene.