The events of Tuesday, February 14, 2016 are etched in Fatuma Chimining’s mind.
On that day, Fatuma and her husband, Walter Lichuma, went to visit a friend in Matisi, a few kilometres from their home.
After the visit, the young couple decided to pass by Naisambu dam. This is one of the estimated 30 dams scattered in the former colonial farms, some sank before independence by white farmers, others formed from abandoned quarries.
The dam was Lichuma’s swimming pool every weekend and Fatuma loved to sit and watch her husband gracefully gliding in the water.
Before Lichuma finished swimming, three women who were passing by said a villager had drowned in another dam nearby.
Lumuli is a few minutes’ walk from Naisambu dam. For Lichuma, this was a chance to put his swimming skills to good use.
If there was a body in the dark waters, he would retrieve it. The couple headed to Lumuli.
But before Lichuma waded into the brown waters, an old woman sounded an ominous warning. Lumuli was not just a dam, it was a death trap.
“Young man, this dam is dangerous. Many people have died here,” Fatuma recalls the woman’s warning.
Confident of his diving skills, Lichuma told his wife not to wait for him, but to proceed home to prepare lunch, promising to join her in 30 minutes.
Lichuma never made it home. He dived into the still waters, but did not come up again. An hour later, someone called Fatima to inform her that her husband had not re-surfaced from the waters. She rushed back to the dam, where a small crowd was still gathered staring at the waters.
Fatuma joined them, praying quietly.
“I prayed and hoped that he would come up, but it did not happen. We kept vigil the whole night,” she says.
On the second day, a local leader suggested that a tractor be brought in to clear the debris in the water and allow a search team in.
They found Lichuma’s body and that of the villager who had died before him.
Lichuma, 30, had promised to be home in thirty minutes. He was dead in less.
His death was cruel irony because he had helped to retrieve bodies in the dams before.
Fatuma joined a long list of women widowed by the killer dams of Trans Nzoia.
According to the area chief, Sylvester Momanyi, Lichuma was the ninth victim of Lumuli dam in the past three years.
“We have records of the people who have drowned in the two dams in the past three years. Naisambu dam has swallowed 17 people while Lumuli had recorded nine deaths,” said Mr Momanyi
Besides Lumuli and Naisambu, Molem dam in Endebess constituency has so far claimed the lives of 20 people. The dam formed from a quarry left by a firm engaged to construct the Kitale-Kapenguria road in the 1980s.
The Kenya Red Cross Society’s Kitale branch estimates that 57 people have lost their lives in the killer dams.
The latest victim, Emmanuel Ekale, a Standard Six pupil at Motosiet Primary School, drowned last month.
Japeth Erot said his son had left home to play with his friends. The family later received information that he had drowned in the dam, less than a kilometre away.
The county executive committee member for water and environment, Maurice Lokwaliwa, said most of the dams have been encroached on.
“We have been unable to secure them. We have asked the Lands Ministry to provide maps to enable us to identify their boundaries,” he said.