On Sunday morning May 3, 2020 Lodwar residents woke up to the sad news that two people who were travelling from Lodwar to Lokichoggio had been washed into river Kawalase, a kilometer away from Lodwar town.
Some residents walked as others drove to witness the incident. Police and the residents struggled to access the double cabin vehicle to try and save the lives of its two occupants but they had already been washed away. The bodies were retrieved by the river banks the following day.
David Mwangi had excused himself to go home after spending a few hours with his friends at a pub in Lodwar on the previous Saturday evening because he was to travel to Lokichoggio on Sunday morning. Being a responsible driver, he could not overstay at the pub. Little did his friends know that this was the last time they were seeing him. They learnt it was Mwangi when they saw his vehicle submerged in water, according to his friend John Chege.
This was not the first time the flooded river was claiming lives not to mention property worth millions of shillings. Two days after the sad incident, a lorry belonging to G4S Company plunged into the same river as the driver attempted to cross to Lodwar from Kakuma on Monday morning. October 19, 2020, some 36 people including a nine-month infant escaped death narrowly when the bus they were traveling in was swept into river Kawalase.
The bus belonging to Mwanake Bus Company was swept into the swollen river as the driver attempted to cross it at 8am. Lodwar town Ward administrator Shaban Lotabo who arrived at the scene, said all the 36 passengers were rescued.
“The members of the community with support from the Kenya Red cross officials managed to rescue all the passengers. Only one infant who is about six months sustained serious injuries and was rushed to Lodwar county referral hospital,” recalled Lotabo.
On May 2, 2016, three people were swept away by the flooded River Kawalase according to the then sub county police commander Joel Kirui while in April 2018, some 60 passengers were rescued when a bus belonging to Eldoret express was swept into the same river.
On the other hand, passengers and candidates sitting exams have been inconvenienced whenever it rains. Vegetable vendors have been incurring losses as their perishable goods go to waste as they wait for the waters to subside before crossing to either side. Others have complained of missing their flights due to inaccessibility of Lodwar airstrip because they have to cross the river.
Turkana County commissioner Muthama Wambua says during his two- year tenure in the county, 12 deaths have been reported at Kawalase Bridge in Lodwar not to mention loss of property as trucks and other passenger vehicles are swept into the river. “Motor vehicle owners who had acquired loans to purchase the vehicles are now servicing loans for damaged vehicles after drivers ignored police warnings not to cross flooded rivers,” says Wambua.
In May 2020 Wambua urged the Chinese contractor to prioritize the construction of a bridge and they heeded thereby preventing loss of lives. The bridge has finally addressed the perennial crisis during rainy seasons.
Residents are now happy that despite the ongoing rains that are being experienced the bridge is passable. “This is a dream come true. We no longer have to wait for days for the waters to subside so that we can cross the river,” said Mike Etabo a driver.
The bridge is part of the ongoing road construction works on the 338 km road from Lokichar to Nakodok, at the Kenya-South Sudan border being undertaken through Kenya National Highways Authority for boosting security and development in the region.
Under the Eastern Africa Regional Transport, Trade and Development Facilitation Project (EATTDFP), residents are now able to enjoy fast transportation from Eldoret to Nadapal (border of Kenya and South Sudan) via the modern A1 road along which a fiber optic cable also runs.
Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman Pius Ewoton said the bridge is a boost to cross border trade.
Ewoton says more vehicles are now operating from Kakuma to South Sudan due to the good state of the road whereas Emily Akai, a vegetable vendor in Lodwar says her business fortunes have improved because she no longer incurs losses as she used to when her perishable goods got spoilt on the road due to poor weather and vehicle breakdowns.
KeNHA Deputy Director Julius Macodero says the road is divided into five contracts most of which are over 80 percent complete. “Upgrading of the Kainuk Bridge is 100 percent complete. Kawalase Bridge in Lodwar was completed in November 2020,” he said.
The road project also includes Sh2.9 billion social amenity projects that will include modern schools, health centres, market centres and water projects.
The county commissioner said once completed, the project will completely transform the lives of area residents.
By Peter Gitonga