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Villagers abuse generosity made in China

BUSINESS
By | September 28th 2009

By Ali Abdi

It has been a case of the beggar biting the hand that gives.When China Wu Yi Company started construction of the Isiolo-Moyale road, it took it upon itself to supply water freely to local people and their livestock in drought-hit areas.

But last week, the company, owing to constraints in sustaining the generosity, announced it would stop the supply and ask the Government to continue. However, it was not going to be an easy disengagement. Residents, used to the generosity, protested, blocked the road and told Wu Yi to give them water or stop building the road.

Wu Yi retorted that it had just been giving out of goodwill. Its plea for reason fell on deaf ears, forcing temporary stoppage of construction.

The issue has since been resolved, between the company, the people and the Government, but the background of how the corporate responsibility gesture started shows a gap left by the Government to be filled by a gullible well-wisher.

It has been an aquatic spectacle every morning at a place called Kilometre 67 as the tanker opens four taps that gush water into a trough dug out in the sandy soil.

A police officer bars protesting residents from storming Wu Yi’s site offices as they demanded water. Photo: Ali Abdi/Standard

Hundreds of herdsmen from villages in Sereolipi location with thousands of their livestock converge every day to get water alternately.

Using a tanker with a capacity of 60,000 litres, the firm had been fetching water for cattle and residents from Ewaso Ng’iro River, about 50km away on the border of Samburu East and Isiolo.

The truck makes an average of three trips a day. Villagers, enroute from Leruto, Karama, Lososia and Archer’s Post line along the road from dawn to get the rare commodity.

With ground water exhausted and left with few options, the villagers became completely dependent on the China Wu Yi camp.

"We started giving them water for domestic use about three months ago. But things are now bad as all of them come here daily to demand water,’’ said a Chinese engineer who declined to be identified because he is not authorised to speak on behalf of the company.

He continued: "As part of our social corporate responsibility we felt duty-bound to subsidise the Government’s effort to supply water to these people. But the locals have now resorted to demanding for the same as if it is our responsibility.’’

China Wu Yi had also bought storage tanks for schools neighbouring the highway in both Isiolo and Samburu East and sunk boreholes for villagers.

A trip to the area showed the truck takes about two hours at the river awaiting water to be pumped and an hour’s trip to Kilometre 67. It can only make three trips that translate to 300km and 180,000 litres of water daily.

Smelling water

As if smelling water, both human and the animals wait anxiously for the truck’s arrival. As dust spirals in the air indicating that the lorry is approaching, pushing and shoving starts even among the animals.

Both the herdsmen and the livestock surround the truck as it stops. Pandemonium ensues moments after the taps of the tanker are opened onto the ground to flow into an open trough dug out in the sand.

"It is a battle for the fittest even for the cattle. The strongest get the water. Some collapse and die after drinking too much water,’’ said Ali Duba.

generosity abused

However, the generosity of the firm was abused last Thursday when rowdy herdsmen threatened to paralyse the operations of the road construction company if they were not supplied with more water on a daily basis.

Road construction was stopped for two days after workers were threatened and vehicles blocked from going beyond Kilometre 67. Reinforcement by Administration Police, under the command of officer in charge of the base security Inspector Mohammed Alike, arrived for talks with the herdsmen at the site.

"They blocked the workers from doing their work. Road construction had stopped for today,’’ said the Government roads engineer attached to the firm, Mr J Gichuru.

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