Conflict over water as farmers upstream divert rivers


Ms Beatrice Wambui of Mukima village in Laikipia District may have no option but to live without water.

Her plight and that of her neighbours is a result of upstream blockage of a river, the only source of water in the area.

To compound the situation, three of Wambui’s children have been diagnosed with typhoid.

"Rivers have dried up, while the few flowing have been reduced to cesspools of contaminated water," said Wambui, who lives near Timau, a section of the Mt Kenya Forest where Teleswan River has been blocked by irrigation for a flower farm.

That was the cause of skirmishes two weeks ago when residents downstream moved to unblock it.

A clash erupted between the two groups.

And as Wambui and her neighbours suffer from a water shortage, upstream users, spread to the east of the main Nanyuki-Meru road, are raking in millions from the river through irrigation.

In Buuri District, recently carved out of Imenti North district, residents irrigate their crops lavishly, and an attempt by Ministry of Water officials and other consumers to stop them is met with resistance.

Users downstream have to beg for a drop, while enterprising youths have started providing water for a fee.

Residents of Laikipia, Samburu and Isiolo districts now fetch water from pools that have formed in Ontulili, Nanyuki, Likii, Teleswan, Kongoni and Timau rivers.

Only Naro Moru and Burguret rivers, which flow through Nyeri North, still make their way downstream.

But the once buoyant courses have been reduced to mere streams, while beyond Matanya in Laikipia East District, they traverse dry riverbeds.

The once rich lands of Nyeri North, Laikipia East, Laikipia North, Samburu East and North and Isiolo districts are near deserts.

Each consumer accuses the other of causing artificial scarcity.

Rife conflicts

Conflicts are rife, with small-scale farmers rising against large-scale ones. On the one hand, pastoralists accuse small and large-scale farmers, while the Water Resources Management Authority, (WRMA), which regulates water usage from natural sources, is against small and large-scale irrigators.

Maitima M’Mukindia, the Ewaso Nyiro North WRMA Manager, however blames small-scale irrigators, who serve as out growers to big flower farms of uncontrolled irrigation.

In Nanyuki, taps have run dry, despite the existence of the Nanyuki Water and Sanitation Company.

Like their colleagues in the arid Laikipia East and North districts, residents are queuing near taps in residential plots with water gallons for the commodity.

Nanyuki town is a tourism hub due to its position at the base of Mt Kenya and presence of numerous game reserves and wildlife conservancies in Laikipia, Samburu and Isiolo.

Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry branch chairman Charles Mureithi, has warned that hotels and lodges where tourists spend nights are adversely affected and might affect the business.

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