The tarmacking of Kibwezi-Mutomo–Kitui Road is expected to bring joy and relief to Kitui and Makueni residents, but for some, it has turned their lives topsy-turvy.
A depressing case is that of Malimau Mwanzia, 58, whose home is in the fringes of Mutomo town. Her house which she constructed in 1998 has been destroyed, with huge gaping cracks running through the walls from the foundation.
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Any slight movement would bring the house down, thanks to a stone crusher that was erected a kilometre away by Sino Hydro Construction company, the contractor who is tarmacking the Sh18 billion road.
The intensity of earth-shaking explosions from the crusher that lasted eight months from July last year were felt far and wide -- apart from leaving plumes of thick dust, they left a trail of destruction to private homes and public institutions.
Mwala sub-location bore the brunt of the explosions.
When we visited, we found Mwanzia carting away her belongings to her daughter’s place in Kibwezi town, about 90km away.
“I have been rendered homeless. I have tried repairing the house but the cracks recur after a few days, I no longer have a home,” she said.
Her grandson who schooled at Muti Primary School has since developed health complications, which she attributes to the loud explosions from the crusher.
Whenever the blasting started, the boy would go into convulsions even when at school. “We had to transfer him to Kibwezi on the advice of his teachers,” his grandmother said.
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About 2km from her home is Mutomo Day and Boarding Primary School which has also not been spared. From the classrooms to the offices to the dormitories and even latrines, the institution that is built on a rocky area has yawning cracks all over.
“I was forced to move some pupils from the affected classrooms to learn under trees for their safety. The blasting affected us so much, the noise was unbearable,” Rebecca Juma, the school’s head teacher said.
With the looming heavy rains predicted to start in October, the school community is a worried lot. “We are afraid that when rains start the whole school will come down. The children and teachers’ lives are at risk,” the teacher said.
Officials from the Department of Public Health and Sanitation who toured the school on July 17, 2018 recommended that most structures in the school be demolished as they were “inhabitable and pose great danger.”
In the audit and inspection report, the officials, led by Jonathan Nzeki noted: “Generally all the structures in the school except the girls’ dormitory are inhabitable and pose a health risk to the inhabitants and warrant total condemnation as they are beyond any reasonable repair.”
The officials further recommended “demolition of all the buildings due to weak foundation caused by the cracks and construction of sound habitable buildings. Demolish all the pit latrines as they have major cracks on the floor slabs and construct sound ones.”
The school’s head teacher also said that they were facing a water crisis after a 40,000 litre tank full of water disintegrated due to the blasting. Also affected are Mutomo Mission Hospital, Mutomo Polytechnic and Muti Primary School; all within the blasting area as well as private buildings at Mwala trading centre, about 4km away. The damages have left a sour taste in the mouths of the residents who are now at loggerheads with the contractor.
According to Daniel Mwendo, a Mutomo-based human rights activist who has been compiling complaints from the community, the contractor subjected the locals to untold suffering due to uncontrolled blasting which he said went on at night.
“The blasting was done without relocating the people nearby as is required; as a result the locals suffered air and noise pollution and serious damages to their structures,” Mwendo said.
Our efforts to get a comment from the project manager bore no fruit as he was said to be on leave. However, a Chinese official at Sino Hydro offices in Mutomo who identified himself only as Mr Hann admitted that some structures had been damaged and 90 of their owners had been compensated.
Hann clarified that only those within a 2km radius from the crusher were being considered for compensation.
He showed us some documents of claims ranging between Sh5,000 and Sh7,000, adding that those with claims above Sh50,000, such as Ms Mwanzia would be compensated by an insurance company.
Unfortunately, Mutomo Primary School and Mutomo Mission Hospital will not be compensated because both are beyond the 2km radius.
“They will however benefit from our corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives such as boreholes. We will even build classrooms in some schools as part of giving back to society,” Hann said.
According to Mwendo, the amount being offered is not much and he wants it increased. “The affected people have been left poorer and impoverished. The contractor is leaving the affected people way below their previous status,” Mwendo said.
He argued that the contractor should also consider those outside the 2km radius and whose properties have been damaged.
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The National Land Commission (NLC) has also not escaped blame for delayed compensation. In Ikutha and Mutomo sub-counties, 327 people were identified for compensation, but only 19 have been gazetted.
“We are concerned that construction works are going on yet nobody has been compensated,” said Mwendo, who sits in a 12-member committee with representatives from the community.
But Dr Rose Musyoka, an NLC commissioner who met the affected people during a recent tour, assured them that their compensation claims will be addressed.
“There is a strict deadline to complete this project and construction work and compensation will run concurrently. It will be done promptly and fairly,” the commissioner said.