Thwake dam kicks off slowly with hopes of addressing Ukambani water problems

If everything goes according to plan, Makueni County and parts of Kitui and Machakos counties might be water and food secure by 2022. But that dream is hinged on the completion of the multi-billion shilling Thwake dam on time.

The mega dam being put up at the confluence of rivers Thwake and Athi at a cost of Sh36.9 billion is expected to be 10 times higher than Ndakaini Dam in Central Kenya, and will have five key components - the dam for water provision, irrigation, water supply to Wote town and Konza Technopolis, hydropower generation and sewerage works.

On completion, the multipurpose dam, which lies at the border between Makueni and Kitui counties, will cover 9,000 acres and stretch over a distance of 22km. It will be 77 metres high and is projected to provide 134 million litres of water daily.

The project, which is slowly taking shepe, has been jointly financed by the government and the African Development Bank.

However, close to two years after the project was launched, no major works have started on site, and this has been mainly due to a tussle over land compensation pitting the Persons Affected by the Project (PAPs) and the National Land Commission (NLC).

Currently, however, 90 per cent of the PAPs have been compensated and relocated to other places to pave way for construction works.

“I can confirm that about 90 per cent of the PAPs have been paid. We have received a commitment from the national government that the remaining 10 per cent will be compensated in two weeks’ time or thereabouts,” Makueni County Commissioner Mohamed Maalim told us in a telephone interview.

Like his colleagues across the counties, Maalim is charged with the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of national government projects in the county.

Last week, the commissioner met officials from the National Treasury and the NLC chairman Muhammad Swazuri to discuss compensation of families.

“They assured us that the remaining PAPs will be paid. Except for the compensation of the remaining 10 per cent, all other issues have been addressed and the contractor is on site. The government is working to the satisfaction of the community,” Maalim noted.

Although a huge portion of the projected land area is under the contractor, there are still some people occupying parts of the land and cannot relocate until they are compensated.

This means there is little the contractor, China Gezhouba Group, can do,besides light activities, such as levelling of the ground and bush clearing, which are ongoing.

Under construction

According to the Ministry of Water and Irrigation which is undertaking the project, Thwake Dam is among 60 dams under construction across the country, which are aimed at improving water provision in the country to 80 per cent by 2020.

The ministry, through NLC, has already spent Sh2.2 billion to compensate 1,443 people. Only 198 are yet to be paid.

The county commissioner says the community is cooperative, having seen the potential of direct and indirect employment opportunities and other benefits from the project.

In the neighbouring Kitui County, Umaa Dam stalled in 2011. This is a huge setback to the water-insecure population.

The multi-million shilling project was started in 2010 during retired President Mwai Kibaki’s regime, when the current Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu was the Water minister.

Months into the construction works, the project stalled, sinking with it Sh575 million taxpayers’ money and dashing hopes of sufficient water supply to Kitui residents.

Mrs Ngilu came under fire when it was revealed that the cost of the project had been reviewed upwards from the initial Sh800 million to Sh1.4 billion, allegedly by a cartel out to fleece the government.

A probe by a parliamentary committee that investigated the scandal however did not find find Ngilu culpable, even as she accused her then assistant minister Mwangi Kiunjuri of sabotage. The collapse of the project left many residents disillusioned.

“We had high hopes for water security. We hope the government will revive the project,” said Mwikali Mwania, a local.