‘SECRET’ PROJECT RUNS INTO TURBULENT WATERS
Murang’a residents say their rivers will be sucked dry by the project, and they will lack water for domestic, agricultural use
In a bid to fight perennial water shortages in and around Nairobi, the government in 2012 came up with a Sh6.8 billion project to channel water from Murang’a county to the Ndakaini Dam. Water would be extracted from rivers including Maragua, Irati and Gikigie to inject 142,000 cubic metres of water into the dam daily, boosting water supply to residents of Kiambu, Murang’a and Nairobi counties.
The court stopped the ‘Northern Water Collector Tunnel Project’ in September last year after an engineer claimed its construction would hurt residents and rivers. But Cord leader Raila Odinga on Monday accused the government of being “secretive” about the project, and said it would “turn counties into deserts”.
County leaders are divided over the World Bank-funded initiative, which was launched on September 18, 2012. Senator Kembi Gitura says residents were not consulted. Former minister John Michuki had also vehemently opposed the project, saying: “You will only construct these mole holes over my dead body.”
However, Governor Mwangi Wairia told off Raila, saying he is seeking political mileage in Central Kenya by criticising the project. “The Cord leader was a Prime Minister when the project was initiated, and he sat in Cabinet meetings that approved it. So if indeed it has hitches, he should accept that he failed Kenyans,” he said.
Water CS Eugene Wamalwa also defended the project. He said the World Bank carried out an environmental impact assessment before approving its commencement. The CS said the growing population in Nairobi called for more supply of clean water fit for human consumption.
Raila on Monday said the project does not appear anywhere in the administration’s list of achievements. “It will be collecting water from the rivers at their source in the Aberdares and diverting the water to Thika’s Ndakaini dam for use in Nairobi,” he said. “Seven rivers are targeted. All of them feed River Tana, the source of livelihood for communities all the way from Ukambani, through Murang’a, Garissa, Tana River and other parts of the Coast.”
Green Belt Movement community mobilisation officer Lilian Muchungi said she was shocked to learn that the project could be going on. “Engineers brought up issues with the project and it was stopped by the court. We have not heard from them,” she said.
Muchungi said engineers feared the project would cause at least four rivers to dry up. “You cannot politicise environmental issues. It’s unfortunate that some Murang’a leaders supported the project. They do not look beyond five years,” she said, adding that
THE COUNTY SUPPLIES 75 PER CENT OF THE WATER CONSUMED IN NAIROBI, YET MURANG’A RESIDENTS “HAVE NOTHING TO SHOW FOR IT” — SENATOR KEMBI GITURA
conservationists are bitter about the project. The law mandates counties to provide water and sanitation services to residents. Gitura said sharing of natural resources in counties is a critical issue. He said it would shape county relations as the nation progresses with devolution.
“What is emerging is that we have challenges, which we can turn into opportunities,” the senator said. Gitura said the county already supplies 75 per cent of the water consumed in Nairobi, yet Murang’a residents “have nothing to show for it”. He accused the Athi Water Services Board of not involving residents in the project.
Residents had expressed fears that the water tunnel, the biggest in the country, would cause earthquakes and deplete underground water in Murang’a. They said the 12km long, three-metre wide underground tunnel, which will be placed 200m underground, may trigger landslides. The residents said their rivers will be sucked dry by the mega project, and they will be left with nowhere to turn to for water for domestic and agricultural use.
“Every time Raila criticises Jubilee projects, Central Kenya people take it as a fight against the government,” said resident Mathew Maina from Kaharati. “On this one, we beg to disagree because he’s talking the right thing. Once the slopes of Aberderes are sucked dry, we will have no water left. Right now, Murang’a boasts of Ndakaini dam, and yet the government has failed to supply us with clean water and pumps all of it to Nairobi.
Maina said Murang’a residents must be involved in deliberating on the progress and benefits of the project, saying residents must first be served with enough water before it can be pumped to Nairobi.
Lucy Kanyiri from Kenol accused county leaders of failing to lobby the government to give the region a stake in the project. “They will now be heard talking because Raila has spoken about it. We live here with them and they understand well the suffering we have been through with water, yet they have kept quiet,” she said.
However, resident Oscar Mburu said Raila is trying to divert the country’s attention from the “wavering state of affairs” in Cord. “We are used to Raila’s way of politics, criticising every project being carried out by the government,” he said. “We are aware that water is being tapped from Murang’a and pumped to Nairobi, and we are satisfied because we have our people there who will benefit. And the government has promised to tap clean water from the project and distribute it to the entire project. We respect the former PM but urge him to leave this project alone.”
Wairia said any concerns raised by residents will be addressed by the Jubilee government. “We the people of Muranga are in Jubilee and have an able leader in President Uhuru Kenyatta who can deal with our problems if and when we have them,” he said.
“When Uhuru wants to end perennial problems, Raila is trying to politicise them. We as the people of Muranga would only want to know the benefits of the water to Nairobi for the people of Murang’a, which we are working on.”
1. The rich water catchment at the Aberdares Forest, which supplies water to most parts of Nairobi and Nakuru. 2. Governor Mwangi Wairia during a press briefing in his office on Tuesday. 3. The Ndakaini Dam that feeds Nairobi county with water.