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Leaders call for revival of Sh1.4b dam that stalled residents' hopes

By Joe Ombuor | November 27th 2016
An abandoned petrol pump stands in the bush

Kitui County Government has asked the National Assembly to set aside funds to complete the construction of the Umaa Dam that stalled in 2011 due to row over rising costs.

The project stalled when the cost for the project rose from Sh824 million to Sh1.4 billion, but the local county government is unable to take it up and complete it because the national, the county administration says. 

County Water executive Jacob Mutua says the project does not fall under its ambit.

“It is a national government project and we have written to the National Assembly to factor it in its budgetary proposals,” Mutua said last week.

He noted that other dam projects of a similar scale which had been abandoned have now been revived after the national government intervened.

Besides providing water for homes, an irrigation scheme would have been the likely spin-off, contributing to greening the environment and providing food to local people, said Mutua.

The Water Executive was on a tour of the stalled project in Changwithya East ward, seven kilometres from Kitui town. 

The project in Kitui Central Constituency was commissioned in 2009 at an initial cost of Sh824 million. Two years later and when it was about 60 per cent complete, the project cost had risen to Sh1.4 billion, due to what experts said was a result of structural changes from its altered designs. These changes were introduced to address the potential for leakages and porosity, the project contractor and engineers said at the time.

Today, it remains incomplete. The bushy site has expensive machines, steel equipment, and ageing concrete structures fitted with pumps. The almost complete residential houses that were built at the time have been left to the mercy of the elements.

A petrol pump with everything in place except fuel sticks out like a sore thumb. 

Senior and junior staff houses, many of them almost ready for occupation,   have become a habitat for bats and other reptiles. 

A lone middle-aged guard watches over the ruins, looking bored in the sweltering heat. Lizards, geckos and snakes flit around the abandoned buildings.

Had the work proceeded according to plan, the dam overlooking Kabonge Forest on the seasonal Nzeeo River would have held over 2,500 cubic metres of water and brought relief to thousands of people in the immediate neighbourhood and beyond.

The work stopped largely because of mismanagement and corruption. The then Parliamentary Lands and Natural Resources Committee chairman, Mr Mutava Musyimi, remarked in 2011: “It is worrying that proper surveys were not carried out prior to the implementation of this project.”

Today, Umaa Dam is abandoned and the people it was meant to serve are as deprived for water as ever.

The situation is so bad during the recent drought, water bowsers hired from Tanathi Water Board had to be used to provide temporary relief in some areas.

The sad fact is that Umaa Dam had started taking shape by the time work stalled in 2011. Excavation works were complete and treatment works 70 per cent ready.

Partly complete, according to records, are the spillway at 60 per cent, 300 metre diversion culverts at 80 per cent and staff houses at 80 per cent.

A four-kilometre-long 150 millimetre diameter steel pipeline had been laid.

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