By Thandiwe Kubere

MASERU – With the Water and Hydrogen in a Digital Future evoking different emotions and the nation steering in different angles of what the initiative has in store for the country, the Ministry of Natural Resources being at the forefront shared its views on the groundbreaking conference and the initiative at large. 

The Metsi ke Bophelo: Water, Hydrogen and Digital Future conference aims to explore the potential of Lesotho’s water resources and how they can be utilized to transform the economy, build human capital, and promote regional development. It intends to develop a strategy that will position the Kingdom as a sustainable digital hydro nation and to address four overarching themes emanating from the vision of the strategy being: water, hydrogen and digital for life – to ensure access to these essential services by all the citizens of Lesotho and elevate Lesotho from the category of least developed countries.

Minister of Natural Resources, Hon. Mohlomi Moleko declared the conference filled him with optimism and that the nation’s water endowment can finally play a central role in the sustainable development of our country.

This conference aims to develop the nation’s strategy that will position Lesotho as the world’s first sustainable digital hydro nation by addressing the themes emanating from the vision, namely: Water, Hydrogen and Digitization for Life; this is to promote access to these essential elements for life by all the citizens of Lesotho in the shortest possible timeframe.

“We can end extreme poverty and create more inclusive societies by developing human capital from our water resources”, he said.

Despite Lesotho being known globally for its abundant water resources, to this day, there is quite a large number of Basotho who do not have access to water and sanitation. Access to safe drinking water and sanitation are internationally recognized human rights, derived from the right to an adequate standard of living under Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

He noted that in July 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted a historical resolution that recognized “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights”. International human rights law makes it mandatory for States to prioritize achieving universal access to water and sanitation for all citizens, without any discrimination while giving special focus to those most vulnerable and in need.

Hon. Moleko declared this is a resolution that the government through the Ministry will work hard to ensure that it becomes a reality for every Mosotho. Through the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), Lesotho has played a significant role in the development of South Africa and the continent. This may seem far-fetched but allow me to explain; The Lesotho Highlands Water Project provides water security to the Gauteng Province of South Africa, the economic powerhouse of the continent. By supplying water to Gauteng, we are contributing to the broader economic development of our region and the continent.”

South Africa and Lesotho are intertwined socially and economically and this water transfer project is further cementing the two countries interdependence for mutual benefit and development. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) also recognizes the project as one of the priority water infrastructure projects for promoting regional integration. The water delivered to the Vaal River System will ensure water security for domestic consumption, agriculture, industries and mining.

He revealed that in Lesotho, more than 85,000 people will benefit upon completion of the project, which will positively impact community development initiatives, improve infrastructure and enhance Lesotho’s socio-economic development.

Of equal importance, the project will also provide the opportunity for Lesotho to generate additional hydropower for domestic consumption and export. “It is the vision and plan of my Ministry to ensure that Lesotho becomes a net exporter of clean renewable power to South Africa and the region using our water resources. This will be our contribution to the fight against global warming and climate change by ensuring that less dependence is made on fossil fuels to power our economies in the Southern African region”, he assured.

He pointed out that through this conference they wish to unlock further ways and means to use water resources to produce clean electricity and green hydrogen, which is the fuel of the future. It is therefore imperative that this resource is preserved for the sustainable development of Lesotho and the region.

Hon. Moleko stated this is where the Renoka Project comes in, which is generously funded by the European Union, German Cooperation and GIZ. The goal is to sustainably manage our land and water resources. It is aimed at combatting land degradation and the depletion of water catchments in the country.

The successful implementation of the Renoka program is expected to: protect and conserve water resources in the country, preserve Lesotho’s vast wetlands and ecosystems, reduce soil erosion and desertification, rejuvenate agricultural lands, and improve the resilience of Basotho and their livelihoods.

Outlining the opportunities that come from moving from water to Hydrogen and the potential advantages it has for the country, he noted that Green Hydrogen is often labeled the fuel of the future. He explained green hydrogen is made from the electrolysis of water, a process that is powered by renewable energy sources like solar or wind, with zero carbon emissions. “Today a massive opportunity exists to decarbonize the industrial sector and lower emissions from transportation. Green hydrogen could be the answer”, he said.

He declared Hydrogen is a powerful, transportable energy carrier that can produce electricity, and power industry and transportation. Unlike fossil fuels, when hydrogen is burned, it generates only water as a by-product, meaning no harmful greenhouse emissions. This makes it an attractive fuel option for the future. Today, less than 1% of total global hydrogen production is green, but this is expected to change as the infrastructure needed to create it is expanded and production costs continue to fall.

“Green hydrogen production is an opportunity that my ministry and the government wish to see unlocked by this conference. To briefly explain the process without dwelling too much into the science; green hydrogen is typically generated from water through a process known as electrolysis, which uses an electric current to split water into its component molecules of hydrogen and oxygen.”

“We believe that Lesotho, given its abundant water resources should proactively explore ways of establishing a green hydrogen industry. The large-scale use of green hydrogen is critical to decarbonizing historically carbon-intensive processes and industries. Replacing fossil fuels with green hydrogen will dramatically reduce greenhouse emissions from industry and transportation.”

He noted the conference should act as a catalyst for attracting research and investment in green hydrogen production in our country. Through robust debates and lessons from experts; a road map and concrete ideas were assured to result from the conference on how to transform Lesotho from a least developed country into the world’s first sustainable digital hydro nation for the benefit of all Basotho.

He revealed a letter to PM Samuel Matekane from the Governor’s Office of The State of Utah, in the United States read; “I write to commend Lesotho’s pioneering step as the world’s first digital Hydro-Nation. This visionary move has inspired Utah’s journey towards becoming a leading “Digital Hydro State”, especially with our ground-breaking First Water Bank of Utah, our first state-certified digital water market. As we push the frontiers of digital water policy and technology within Utah, a known technology hub, I see a valuable collaboration opportunity between Lesotho and Utah. We are keen to learn from Lesotho’s expertise and to offer insights from our ventures in digital water.”

These words of encouragement and support reaffirmed the belief that the government is indeed on the right track. He mentioned that while the convening of this conference faced tremendous resistance from some in the opposition political parties and civil society, South Africa will be hosting its own Green Hydrogen Summit in Cape Town.

“This is another indication that the opportunities presented by the emerging global green hydrogen economy are real and those countries which choose to seize this opportunity now will reap the most benefit”, Hon Mohlomi concluded.