Water’s Worth

Southern Africa 2016

By Robert Smith

June 17, 2016

Also aired on NPR

A country has to sell what it's got. Lesotho always had more rain and snow than it knew what to do with. So Lesotho made a deal with its neighbor, South Africa, to buy the water. The country moved rivers and built one of the most impressive water projects in Africa to deliver it.

Then the drought hit.

All over Lesotho, the grass is dry. The corn is stunted. And cows are dying. Yet the water deal with South Africa still holds. Lesotho promised to sell the water and it has to keep delivering it.

On the other side of the water tunnels is the city of Johannesburg, one of the economic engines of Africa. The metropolis grew on water from Lesotho and needs even more of it in the future. And they'll do just about anything to keep the water flowing.

In a world of climate change, there are countries that are rich in water and countries that need it desperately. But the story of Lesotho is a cautionary tale about how water is unlike any other export.

Robert Smith reported from Lesotho on a fellowship from the International Reporting Project.

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