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Landlocked and surrounded by South Africa on all sides, the mountain kingdom of Lesotho became the world's first "water-exporting country" when it signed a 1986 treaty with its powerful neighbor. An elaborate network of dams and tunnels now carries water to Johannesburg, the subcontinent's water-stressed economic epicenter. Hopes that receipts from water sales could improve Lesotho's fortunes, however, have clashed with fears that soil erosion from overgrazing livestock could fill its reservoirs with sediment.
In The Fluvial Imagination: On Lesotho’s Water-Export Economy (U California Press, 2022), Colin Hoag shows how producing water commodities incites a fluvial imagination. Engineering water security for urban South Africa draws attention ever further into Lesotho's rural upstream catchments: from reservoirs to the soils and vegetation above them, and even to the social lives of herders at remote livestock posts. As we enter our planet's water-export era, Lesotho exposes the possibilities and perils ahead.
The book is available open access.
Colin Hoag is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Smith College.
Alize Arıcan is a Society of Fellows Postdoctoral Scholar at Boston University, focusing on urban anthropology, futurity, care, and migration. Her work has been featured in Environment and Planning D, Current Anthropology, and City & Society, among other journals and public-facing platforms. You can find her on Twitter @alizearican.
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