WHY MEGA DAM PROJECTS FACE STIFF RESISTANCE
Residents say the Sh23 billion Itare dam in Bomet, the Sh30 billion Arror dam in Elgeyo Marakwet and Murang’a’s Sh6.8 billion Northern Water Collector Tunnel hurt the environment and supply faraway town folk at their expense
In urban areas, the question of where the clean fresh water we use in our homes originates from rarely crosses our minds, even as we open that tap to quench thirst, take a bath or do the laundry.
Most of the water used in major towns, including Nairobi, comes from dams. The recent establishment of the Sh23 billion Itare dam (Bomet), the Sh30 billion Arror (Elgeyo Marakwet) and Muranga’s Sh6.8 billion Northern Water Collector Tunnel are eliciting mixed reactions.
In Elgeyo, where three multipurpose dams are set to be constructed at Sh80 billion at Arror, Kimwarer and Embobut, residents are up in arms, accusing the state of ignoring their plight for adequate compensation before the mega projects begin.
The county already has a 6.2m cubic metre Chebara dam that supplies water to Eldoret town and its environs. However, residents near the dam bemoan lack of piped water, despite consistently helping to conserve the dam and the rivers supplying it.
The scenic dam, built in the mid90s, draws its water from Moiben River, as well as streams that originate from Kipkunur and Embobut forests, which form part of the larger Cherangany water tower.
The desperation for clean water is evident, with residents fetching water from streams that drain water to the dam, regardless of health risks.
Angry residents momentarily disrupted a recent annual conservation run at Chebara dam, Elgeyo Marakwet, to protest against lack of piped water in their homes.
Resident Amos Kimutai said during the Saturday event that Eldoret Water Services has been ignoring their pleas for tapped water. Eldowas is the company that has been managing the dam and facilitating continuous supply of water to Eldoret from Chebara for piped water for the past 18 years.
Kimutai said it only focuses on supplying water to Eldoret residents. He said the conservation run has been done for three years, yet residents have not been told how the proceeds benefit them.
“We have tried talking to Eldowas, but no one listens to us. We help conserve the dam, yet people in other counties benefit from the water,” Kimutai said.
‘RESIDENTS HAVE BEEN TAKING PART IN TREE PLANTING AND OTHER CONSERVATION PROGRAMMES, BUT THEIR CRY FOR PIPED WATER HAS BEEN IGNORED.’ — PAUL CHELIMO, ACTIVIST
It took Governor Alex Tolgos’ intervention to calm down the residents. Tolgos said he empathised with them, since his parents live less than a kilometre from the dam but have no tapped water.
Benjamin Kimutai, 51, a farmer who also lives in the dam’s vicinity, said the stream waters get muddy during rainy seasons, exposing residents to waterborne diseases.
He said together with their livestock, residents rely on the streams, further increasing their vulnerability to waterborne diseases.
“We fetch water from the streams. Our livestock drink from the same streams as well,” Kimutai said.
He said the local community has been requesting Eldowas for help but their pleas have been ignored.
“The dam has brought more misfortunes that fortunes. When it started supplying water to Eldoret, we suffered from diseases in return,” he said.
Kimutai said a sudden change of climate occurred when the dam was completed, as temperatures decreased, making the area colder.
He said the situation has been worse for residents who fetch water directly from the dam, as some of them have drowned and died.
“At least six people have drowned while fetching water from the dam since its establishment. It has never been fenced off,” Kimutai said.
“We have been shortchanged for a long time. We regret why this dam is located here yet people living in another county enjoy its benefits.”
Paul Chelimo, a resident and chairman of Moiben Water Resource Users Association, said residents living adjacent to the dam have not benefited. He cited residents of Chebara trading centre, Chogoo, Kapkoros, Chebiemit, Kilima and Kapsiliot.
Chelimo said Eldowas and other organisations have been working to protect the dam’s water sources, placing supply of water to residents near the dam on the back burner.
He said it has been an uphill task convincing Eldowas to supply piped water to residents in the hilly area, where getting piped water to homes is difficult.
Chelimo said Moiben WRUA has presented a proposal to Eldowas to construct water tanks on the higher grounds of Chogoo and Kilima before being supplied to residents’ homes through gravity, since the area is hilly.
He said residents have become impatient, as they have been given assurances of being supplied with piped water for drinking and irrigating their farms for close to two decades, but no promise has been fulfilled.
“Residents have been taking part in tree planting and other environmental conservation programmes, but their cry for piped water since the dam was established has fallen on deaf ears,” Chelimo said.
He said lack of piped water in most homes will pose problems as the population increases and with it, the demand for clean water, due to the rising number of public institutions.
He cited the recent establishment of Kisii University campus and the expansion of Chebiemit Subcounty Hospital. Other institutions include Chebara Boys and Girls secondary schools and Chebara Youth Polytechnic.
“Residents are pinning their hopes on the latest agreement, signed in mid 2015. It is our hope that they will finally get tap water in their homes,” Chelimo said.
He said Moiben WRUA has partnered with the Kenya Forest Service to plant 100,000 tree seedlings in Kipkunur Forest, an effort he said has made Eldowas pay attention to their demands for water supply.
“It has now agreed to supply water to Chebara and Chebiemit residents,” he said.
Businesspersons in Chebara trading centre, including shopkeeper Gladys Kipchumba, said the piped water deal with Eldowas is just the latest in a string of promises that have never been fulfilled.
Kipchumba asked why a trading centre a kilometre from a dam serving Eldoret town has no water. “We only get water from the stream. We have no other sources,” she said.
Eldowas managing director Reuben Tuwei said the company has invested in conserving the dam’s water sources.
Tuwei said the company has partnered with other organisations to restore the source of Moiben River, which is the major source of the dam. He cited the Water Resources Management Authority and Nature Kenya.
“We launched Chebara conservation run in October last year to conserve the water sources around the dam and to protect the interests of residents,” he said.
The MD said the dam supplies 22,000 cubic metres of water per day to 500,000 households and at least 100 industries in Eldoret, adding that conserving the dam is a priority to the company.
Records from the now defunct Marakwet county council indicate the Sh1.2 billion dam was launched by retired President Daniel arap Moi in 1999.
It gets its water from Moiben River, whose source is deep in Embobut Forest in Kapyego, and which meanders through Kipkunur Forest through Chebara to Uasin Gishu county.
At the Marakwet West Subcounty Hospital in Chebiemit, doctors said cases of waterborne diseases in areas around the dam have been on the rise.
Subcounty health officer Isaac Kipyego said poor sanitation-related diseases are frequent, despite preventive measures taken by the ministry to stem the illnesses.
The officer said several interventions have been rolled out to save residents from waterborne diseases. He said the Health department is working with NGOs to run behaviour change communication (BCC) programmes to reduce cases of sanitation-related illnesses, including typhoid and amoebiasis.
The programme aims to create awareness on the use of toilets rather than defecating in bushes, near rivers around the dam and other areas in the subcounty, putting residents’ health at risk.
“Most people have been defecating in bushes, leading to the spread of diseases. We have witnessed behaviour change that has led to reduction of waterborne diseases,” Kipyego said.
Water from the dam flows to Eldoret town, 80km away, through gravity.
In the South Rift region, Bomet Governor Isaac Rutto and his Kericho counterpart Paul Chepkwony have called for a halt to the construction of Itare Dam, which is meant to supply water to Nakuru town. They have cited negative environmental effects if the project in Ndoinet Forest proceeds.
The Kipsigis Council of Elders are also opposing the project for similar reasons.
In the Central region, controversy has rocked Northern Water Collector Tunnel, which aims to supply water to Nairobi. Critics, including Cord leader Raila Odinga, claim it will turn Murang’a, Garissa, Ukambani and Tana River delta regions into deserts within five years of completion.
Other critics, including Murang’a Senator Kembi Gitura, say the public was not consulted.
However, Water CS Eugene Wamalwa said an environmental impact assessment was done and it showed the project will not harm the environment. Murang’a Governor Mwangi Wairia accused Raila of politicising the project.
IN CENTRAL, CONTROVERSY HAS ROCKED NORTHERN WATER COLLECTOR TUNNEL, WHICH AIMS TO SUPPLY WATER TO NAIROBI. CORD LEADER RAILA ODINGA CLAIMS IT WILL TURN MURANG’A, GARISSA, UKAMBANI AND TANA RIVER DELTA REGIONS INTO DESERTS WITHIN FIVE YEARS. ‘WE HAVE BEEN SHORTCHANGED FOR A LONG TIME. WE REGRET WHY THIS DAM IS LOCATED HERE YET PEOPLE LIVING IN ANOTHER COUNTY ENJOY ITS BENEFITS.’ — FARMER BENJAMIN KIMUTAI
A construction worker inside the Northern Collector Tunnel..... The Northern Collector Tunnel that is being constructed at Makomboki area in Kigumo, Murang’a county.
Nakuru Governor Kinuthia Mbugua inspects the Itare dam construction in Ndoinet Kuresoi yesterday along with contractors and other county government officials .