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When the taps run dry in a major water catchment area

By DANIEL PSIRMOI

Mention water crisis in the country and what immediately springs to mind is arid and semi-arid areas in North Eastern, where the scarcity of the important commodity has sometimes led to bloody conflicts.

Lack of clean drinking water still remains a nightmare that plagues millions in most urban and rural areas.

And one would expect the situation to be much better in places identified as water towers or surrounding regions. However, in Mt Elgon constituency, one of the country’s five water towers, water is a scarce commodity.

The sub county residents have remained ‘thirsty’ for the last five months with no water in their taps, despite the region being an important water catchment area.

Ironically, taps have run dry for months in the major urban centres of Kapsokwony, Kaptama and Cheptais, while people residing in towns like Kimilili, Kamukuywa and Chwele, who tap their water from Mt Elgon, enjoy an endless supply.

The biting shortage prompted residents of Kapsokwony, the headquarters of Mt Elgon, to take to the streets on Tuesday in protest.

The demonstrators, most of them business people from the town, complained bitterly of being forced to get water from a nearby stream or to buy it from vendors occasioning great losses in form of time and money.

Dirty bedding

“Business people especially hotel owners like me are not only making huge losses because of buying water from vendors, but we are also exposing ourselves and our customers to threats of water-borne diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery and typhoid among others,” said Siphrose Chebet during a meeting with the area Deputy County Commissioner Philip Mbuvi.

Chebet, who is also a director in the Bungoma County chapter of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce, said the business community fears the continued shortage of the precious commodity would cripple business activities in the area.

Glen Kiptoch, another resident, said the water shortage has not only affected traders but also schools in the town and health institutions including the Kapsokwony Sub District Hospital.

“There is no water at the district hospital. Patients admitted at the facility are forced to carry their own bedding as there is no water to wash the dirty bedding,” said Kiptoch.

“Two children from this area were recently admitted at Kapsokwony District Hospital after they developed complications after drinking unpurified river water that had leeches,” said Masai Songi, who disputed the excuses given by those charged with supplying water in the area, that the shortage has been occasioned by the prevailing dry weather conditions.

“We don’t dispute, there has been no rain, but how come the mild drought is only affecting the taps in Mt Elgon while the areas downstream have unlimited supply of the commodity, throughout the year?” posed Songi. Speaking separately to The Standard Ndiwa Chemarum, the Mt Elgon Sub County Water Officer and Joseph Manyu,  chairperson of the Elgon East Water Users Association, both acknowledged the problem but said the shortage is not only experienced in Kapsokwony but in almost the entire district.

“The water shortage has been occasioned by both the dry season and poor farming practices in Mt Elgon forest under what is referred to as the shamba system near our water catchments area. This has caused mud and silt to clog our intake systems, causing the scarcity,” said Chemarum, who added that the shortage has forced them to ration water for the residents.

Manyu, whose association is in charge of water supply in the area, explained that the existing project serving the residents especially in Kapsokwony that was started years ago, is inadequate.

No money, no water

“Demand is now higher than what we supply because of a population explosion in the area. Plans are in top gear by the Bungoma County Government to set up another water supply project to supplement the existing one,” said Manyu.

He added: “Most Kapsokwony residents have defaulted in payment of water bills, and the total arrears now add up to over Sh6.5 million for the last two years. This has greatly hindered our service delivery.”

Recently, the Treasury gave clearance for construction of Maragwa and Ndarugu dams in a public-private partnership arrangement. Completion of works for the two dams is expected to ease ongoing water supply deficits within Nairobi County.

Available figures indicate that Nairobi has a water supply deficit of over 150,000 cubic metres.

Nairobi obtains the largest bulk of its water supply from Ndakaini Dam, Ruiru and Kikuyu Springs.