By Oduor Jagero
Many villagers have ended their lives in a rare suicidal spot: Muoni dam in Kathiani constituency. The reasons for suicide are varied, but one thing is for sure. There frustrations around this area.
And if frustrations continue, which is highly likely, more deliberate deaths are bound to follow.
Kathiani is one of the biggest constituencies in Kenya in terms of land mass. This great land is home to General Mulinge, one of the darlings of former President Moi. During his era in the army, this statesman, through his connections, helped build the tarmac stretch that runs from Machakos town to Kathiani Township.
?But the greatest thing that Mulinge did to this forgotten part of Kenya was sinking a dam that has served us for decades?, says Joshua Mutua, a director of Kathiani Water and Sewerage Company.
Muoni and Kathiani rivers meet at a confluence to form Umanithi River. Given that these seasonal rivers would just lie idle in season and quickly die away during dry spells, experts reasoned that if this water, going to waste, could be tapped, treated and used by the locals.
It would then give the locals clean drinking water, help in irrigation, and made available to help in various domestic usage. This would give the local a chance to build the larger Kenyan economy.
Riding on this noble idea, the then General Mulinge, burning with empathy to save his people from thirst, used his political leverage and marshaled the government resources in order to build the famous Muoni Dam. Built in the late 80s, the mammoth dam covers a 3 sq. kms and a reservoir with enough storage capabilities to hold water throughout the year.
?This dam used to supply the entire area and even across borders?, says Mutua. But now water shortage is at worst. And coupled with hunger and drought, Kathiani is a community on the precipice of collapse.? When the EAiF did a visit around the dam, its reporter found that dam is almost no more.
Heavy silting threatens the survival of the dam. The level is reduced by the sand and stones and pebbles to a shallow basin. About a kilometer of the land is dry land, only inhabited by weeds and shrubbery.
One may want to blame them for it, but the people that were compensated and afterwards relocated from the dam site have come back to farm on the same land that could have been holding water ? the only lifeblood to the hilly and fertile soil, which experience not more than scanty rains.
Around the countryside, most of the pipes are either broken or gaping over land in a manner that would highly be tempting for vandalism. Most of the meters are either not working or faulty. And while CDF funds could have easily come in handy, there no word from the local MP, Wavinya Ndeti.
The same dam water that should have been used to grow crops has never irrigated the hillside, and now the same fertile but wasted soil, day by day, settles on the basin where it was shoveled in the 80s.
?This dam used to serve Kathiani, Kaute, and Kaiani, but I fear for this dam. It now holds approximately an eighth of its original capacity?, Mutua says. This, Mutua argues, means that the soil has eaten up more than ? of the dam.
The government?s idea of privatizing water, experts argue, may just further destroy the already grim picture. Timothy, a Kenyan-American, who is back on holiday and wants to put up a water Kiosk fears for the smooth-running of the crucial utility. ?Are these guys really going to put up this kiosk?? he wonders.
He had asked the Kathiani water officials to do piping a week ago but when the EAiF reporter accompanied him to the water offices, he was told that his application has not been processed? leave alone buying materials for his project. The water companies do not stock water meters on the other hand. That means that the client has to go and look for his own meter. The question is; how would a villager, worried about his next meal in Ukambani, take his time to go to Nairobi in search of a water meter?
Mutua laments that while privatization of water is a good idea, the big question is how the private entities are going to rejuvenate ? overhaul is the word ? the limping water sector. ?We cannot afford, as a private body, to raise 350 million needed to re-sink the dam?, says Mutua.
The only option, Mutua opinionates, is for government to extend a hand by sinking the dam once more. ?This way we can run this dam efficiently?, says Mutua.
Timothy is convinced that the dam can bring back life to Kathiani. ?This dam can change the face of Kathiani. When this damp is being renovated, the young men will get employment, when piping is being done the youth will get employment?, Timothy says.
Timothy does not know that the main reservoir put up by Kathiani CDF is broken and clogging does not allow water to flow from it. It is going to be a wait-and-see as Joshua and his team struggle to restore the image of Muoni. He says that they want to overhaul the piping system and extend it.
And for those that cannot afford the small charges that they shall put in place, then the situation and lives can be salvaged. With El nino said to be returning, the dam can do a lot if it?s sunk again.