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Elgeyo escarpment, a ticking bomb: Residents live in fear as cracks emerge in homes

HOME & AWAY
By Fred Kibor | November 23rd 2020
Locals mill around a deep gulley that formed as a result of rampant soil erosion in Kerio Valley. [Fred Kibor, Standard]

A few days ago, David Mengich, a resident of Kapsegut village in Keiyo South, Elgeyo Marakwet County, moved his family out of the area for fear of a landslide.

Like many residents, Mengich had noticed cracks that were first seen on the ground about two years ago had widened, putting the lives of residents in danger. 

“The cracks are dangerous and people and animals can easily fall into them,” he said, noting that the entire village and its environs are no longer safe for habitation.

The cracks first emerged in 2019 and cut through Kapsegut, Ketigoi and Kalwal villages. They have since widened, with water percolating and sinking the lower soil layers.

As Rift Valley lakes flood, the ground is steadily cracking, leaving behind hollow ground that has caused panic across the region over an impending disaster.

Environmentalists and geologists warn the cracks currently emerging might portend a major landslide in the area, and called for urgent relocation of thousands of people living along the escarpment.

Other villages

Roads linking the villages to other parts have been rendered impassable by the cracks, which have cut off the area and two schools in Marakwet East.

The fissures have been worsened by the ongoing rains.

In Marakwet West Sub-county, cracks measuring over 10 metres wide and up to three metres deep dot many parts.

Similar cracks are witnessed in Maina Sub-location and Kipchumwa location, both in Marakwet East Sub-county.

“Already, 20 families have moved out of the village after the cracks emerged in their homesteads. The cracks started emerging in April, but as days went by, they sank and are now over three metres deep. It is apparent we are sitting on a ticking bomb,” said Lawrence Chepkiyeng, a resident from Sangurur.

In Kipchumwa location, Marakwet East, the situation is not any different as dozens of residents have fled the region.

Area ward representative Paul Kipyatich said a landslide was imminent, especially if the rain currently pounding the region continues.

“Families have moved out to avoid a catastrophe similar to the one that hit the area six months ago. The cracks have developed in villages and at Cheptany Primary School and there are fears that massive slides could occur any time,” he said.

Elegyo Marakwet National Environment Management Authority director Moses Morintat said the cracks along the Elgeyo escarpment were largely due to unchecked human activities worsened by climate change.

“There is rampant bush clearance for farming and settlement aggravated by population pressure. This has led to the destruction of ecologically sensitive areas such as hanging valleys and escarpments,” he said.

Florence Tanui, a geologist and hydrogeologist, warned the fissures could lead to a massive landslide.

She said 60 per cent of the Elgeyo escarpment was not fit for human habitation.  

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