Remarks by Ambassador Matthew T. Harrington at the Launch of the Lesotho National Ecosystem Framework

Delivered at the Avani Lesotho Hotel

Honorable Minister of Water Affairs Lincoln Mokose;

Honorable Minister of Forestry and Land Reclamation Kabelo Mafura;

Distinguished guests, partners and friends;

All protocol observed

Good morning and welcome.

It is a pleasure to join you here this morning for the official launch of the Lesotho National Ecosystem Framework.  This framework will serve as the foundation for sustainable environmental and water management in Lesotho for years to come.

Taking an ecosystem approach to water management and planning is vital for so many reasons.  First, and most obviously, it protects the ecological functioning and biodiversity of a landscape, ensuring a healthy environment for generations.  Second, it recognizes the value of all stakeholders – humans, animals, and habitats – in a sustainably managed ecosystem.

For me, this is the critical point.  We don’t support our ecosystems out of charity.  We support them out of self-interest.  Without healthy ecosystems, there can be no sustainable economic growth and no food security.

As human beings, our health and wellbeing depends on the services provided by ecosystems, including water.  Healthy ecosystems can deliver multiple benefits — economic, ecological and social benefits — that support the region’s water demands, development objectives and promote resilience to climate change.

Before launching into the details of this Framework, I want to take a step back to look at the broader context, which reminds us why this work is so important.

First, we are experiencing the worst drought this region has seen in decades.  In some parts of southern Africa, it’s the worst drought since they began keeping rainfall records more than a hundred years ago.  Making matters worse, the recent El Nino cycle came after two years of below average rainfall.

Four countries in southern Africa – including Lesotho – have issued drought related disaster declarations.  Food insecurity and nutrition related health problems are on the rise around the region.

Here in Lesotho, 80 percent of farmers harvested almost nothing during the last harvest period.  Even if we see normal rainfall levels this year, it will take years to recover from the shock of this year’s drought.

The second reason this work is so important is because Lesotho plays a critical role in the region in terms of sustainable water management.  All major rivers in southern Africa flow across national boundaries.  What that means is that cooperative decision-making and management is necessary to ensure equitable and efficient use of water.

Much of this water comes from Lesotho’s highlands.  How Lesotho manages this precious resource has a critical impact on the water supply of your downstream neighbors: South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.

The Orange-Senqu River basin covers a one million square kilometer-area that includes the central part of South Africa, southeastern Botswana, southern Namibia, and all of Lesotho.  It is a complex transboundary system on which more than 20 million people across the four countries depend.

It’s worth keeping in mind two critical points – first, that we live in a water scarce region, and second, that Lesotho plays a critical role in regional water management – as we discuss in this Framework.

But when we talk about sustainable water management, there’s much more to the discussion than how much water flows through the system.  Just as important – if not more important – is the health of the ecosystems through which that water flows.  Protecting the ecosystem increases resilience in and along the river to climate-related events, including floods and droughts.

The United States government is committed to promoting collaborative management and decision making among governments in priority river basins.  Our goal, of course, is to help secure ecologically sustainable futures for the people of the region.

Toward that end, the U.S. government, through the United States Agency for International Development (or USAID) has supported both scientific analysis and pilot projects in Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.

Our goals, working collaboratively with government and other partners, are to improve biodiversity conservation and the management of water resources.

But for an ecosystem approach to be successful, we need to address far more than just water.  For example, poor land management practices, such as overgrazing, can cause significant degradation of land and other natural resources, which affects the quantity and quality of water.

To try to address these challenges, we are piloting activities in Lesotho which promote the sustainable management of rangeland and wetland ecosystems while addressing poverty and livelihood security.

For example, in two communities in Quthing, USAID is working with chiefs and households to raise awareness of the importance of rotating grasslands used for grazing, rehabilitating degraded areas, and emphasizing priority areas within wetlands.

Similarly, we’re helping improve management and rehabilitation of rangelands struggling with alien invasive shrubs.  A total of 59 hectares are currently under community rangeland management in the two areas.

Finally, to diversify economic activities and improve livelihoods, USAID has trained 37 households on fruit drying, food preservation techniques and beekeeping.  We’ve provided start-up beekeeping equipment such as beehives, protective clothing and tools to 20 households.

We are very pleased to be part of this important process. In my opinion, these efforts, alongside the indispensable contributions of local and national stakeholders, are critical to adopting an integrated ecosystem-based approach.  This approach values the interconnections between biodiversity and society, and ultimately promotes the resilience of both the ecosystems and the communities that live in, and rely on, the Orange-Senqu River basin.

Before I close, I want to recognize the valuable contributions of many in this room.  The Framework we are launching today was developed in collaboration with national stakeholders representing a broad range of government ministries and departments, many of which are represented here today.  I applaud all of your efforts, and thank you all for your close cooperation and tireless work.  Without your valuable contributions, we would not be where we are today.

On behalf of the American people and my government, thank you.