Rajab Were’s home sits barely 100 metres from River Nzoia and he is not worried that come the rainy season, he will be displaced.
A few years back, Were and his family could have camped at a rescue centres, something that had been a routine every rainy season.
Each drop of water brought torrents of tears, not just to residents of his Bukhuba village but the entire Budalang’i Constituency.
He recalls those agonising days and nights. “I remember the times when camping at rescue centres on raised grounds was for us the most sensible thing to do before the rains set in,” the father of 11 says.
“We could hardly grow anything on our farms where snakes and other harmful creatures abound alongside fish. Hunger was a perpetual part of our lives.”
Future full of hope
Not anymore. This time, every raindrop is greeted with joy. As recent flash floods ravaged the rest of the country, Were says he harvested 50 bags of rice, thanks to the unflinching dykes, the workmanship of Chinese Sino Hydro Corporation.
“We are looking forward to the future full of hope. People found undermining the dykes for selfish reasons must be dealt with firmly,” he says.
The Sh10 billion project jointly funded by the Government and the World Bank is an engineering marvel of earth work that runs 34km along the Nzoia River in an area once ravaged by incessant floods that not only displaced residents annually, but rendered agriculture a futile venture.
The dykes were the reason why Budalang’i did not feature prominently in this year’s devastating floods that wreaked havoc across Kenya between March and June.
Today, maize, sorghum and other crops flourish on reclaimed farmlands, effectively relegating tales of food shortage and displacements to the past.
About 20,000 people in Busia and Siaya counties, among them farmers in Bunyala Irrigation Scheme, are on target to benefit from the project.
And a tangible symbol of the project success is the 100-metre long Sigiri Bridge, whose collapse last July soon after President Uhuru Kenyatta’s visit generated a lot of controversy. The bridge forms part of the dykes.
Estimated to have cost Sh999 million, the bridge on the lower reaches of Nzoia River is to be soon officially opened.
It is here that 14 people drowned while crossing the River Nzoia by boat in 2014, a tragedy that prompted the Government to come up with a bridge project.
Jerry Odhiambo of the National Water and Pipeline Corporation says strategies used to ensure the dykes were flood proof included raising those five metres high at strategic points, while maintaining their width at 3.7 metres.
“Measures against seepage control have stopped the gushing of water below the dykes back into the water ways that causes damage to crops and settlement areas,” Mr Odhiambo says.
“We have demonstrated to the whole world that dykes can work perfectly if properly constructed,” he says, adding that there are no more cases of homes being marooned or people being evacuated.
The dykes have been built 50m from the banks of River Nzoia, a strategy Mr Odhiambo says is meant to prevent them from being weakened by high pressure. And incidents of malaria, bilharzia and other diseases that once debilitated residents have reduced, says a Budalang’i sub-district health official, Felistus Arumo.
“My trips to hospital due to malaria have reduced and my children today look healthier,” says Gladys Mukolo, a mother of five.
“Besides, my family is now food sufficient unlike in the past when we hardly grew any crops on our farms,” she adds, describing the dykes as the greatest gift the people of Budalang’i have ever received from the Government.
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