Migori town, the largest urban centre within Migori County, serves as an important link between Kenya and Tanzania. And its cosmopolitan nature has made it to be among the fastest growing towns in Kenya and most viable commercial centre in the country.
According to the 2009 census, the population of the then municipal council of Migori stood at 29, 825 but to date, statisticians put the population within the town to over 100,000 people.
With that huge number of human beings concentrated in one region, there are a number of basic services that are critical for the survival of such humanity, one of which is availability of a good systems to realise a high degree of sanitation for the town dwellers.
An urban set up of that kind will also require good infrastructure for instance housing, good roads, high-class water system, lighting system and first-rate hospitality services from hotels and restaurants.
Fortunately enough, Migori is racing to catch up with the existing big cities in Kenya in terms of buildings and especially those housing business entities.
For the last five years, the town has experienced a construction madness by investors that has borne a web of beautiful skyscrapers currently serving as commercial buildings within and around the town centre.
And in equal measure to the construction frenzy of the commercial buildings, the town is currently registering a fast spring of mansions and a blooming cache of small- enterprise entities that are driving it to totally acquire its new status, thanks to devolution.
It is a fact that, Migori, the headquarter of the region’s devolved unit, has found its growth formula largely due to the decentralization of government services from Nairobi.
With the increased flow of financial resources into the region and the fact that the town boasts its closeness to the world’s popular tourists’ destination, Maasai Mara game park, Migori has had a dire need to improve its hospitality services leading to the mushrooming of first class hotels and restaurants now seen in the area.
“It is fascinating to witness a sharp increase of hotels, restaurants and bars within the town centre and its environs in a short span of time after ushering in the devolved government. It is an outright proof that the economy of the town has greatly gone up because of the high circulation of money from within and outside,” says Mr. Jorum Ondiek, a teacher from Uriri Sub County.
Most of those investing in the huge commercial assets are people associated with the county government. They are either employees there or they are trading with the devolved unit as contractors and suppliers.
“These people have given the town a new lease of life by investing in real estate business, putting up lines of rental houses, homes and inns that have offered the town a big facelift within a short period,” says Mrs. Monica Milanya.
Being one of the beneficiaries of the over Sh500 million World Bank Urban Promotion Program in Kenya, expectations are high among county residents that Migori town is set to make a further long stride in improvement of its amenities, a situation that is poised to attract more investors and visitors to the benefit of the local economy.
Governor Okoth Obado says his government is keen to initiate more development programmes not only to Migori town but to other up-coming urban centres within the region in collaboration with other development partners within and outside the country to make the region an economic hub in Africa.
However, the visible transformation of the town has not been realized without some glaring challenges.
Unfortunately to the local people and visitors, one of the cogs that is critical for aligning a particular region or centre with good sanitation – the sewerage system – has been lacking within the town, thereby exposing the lives of the town dwellers to serious health dangers.
In the past years, the town has been experiencing recurring outbreaks of waterborne disease, despite its speedy growth to urban status.
“We have been experiencing bouts of cholera, dysentery and other waterborne diseases due to poor systems in disposal of waste matters especially the human fecal matters,” says Public Health Officer Mr. Jorem Onyango.
Save for the Catholic Church-run Ombo Mission hospital’s sewerage treatment pond, serving the facility only, the rest of the town’s soft waste matters all end up in River Migori that snakes its way through the town centre to Lake Victoria.
Currently, the town depends on poorly constructed pit latrines that dot the towns to dispose of human faeces, but whose contents end up being discharged into river Migori during rainy seasons when they overflow.
“We have over 50 hotels and 20 learning institutions within this town all of which have no proper systems of disposing of waste matters and, the unfortunate thing here is that all their wastes are directed into the river,” says Mrs. Monica Otieno, a Migori town dweller and business woman.
Statistics availed from the local statistics bureau indicates that a large volume of soft matters from estates, homes and business institutions are being discharged as run offs on open grounds exposing the town to foul smells.
A first time visitor to the town will be surprised to do hop-step and jump over numerous rivulets of raw sewer webbed in many parts of the town and chocking his or her lungs with bad smells.
Although the town enjoys piped water services, there has been a problem of raw sewer mixing with clean water after seepage of sewer through broken water pipes.
A survey conducted within the town has also revealed that many homes and business premises bordering river Migori have been discharging their raw wastes into the river, leaving it highly polluted for direct water users on the lower parts.
Reports have also been doing round that some big hotels have been emptying their overflowing sock pits on open grounds late into the night and especially during rainy seasons to cut costs of treating and draining their sock pits using existing firms charged with such duties.
Lack of working sewerage network in the town has left the town seriously dwarfed in terms of good sanitation and all blames have been heaped on the county government that has been accused of being inept in offering good services to address the biting low level of sanitation in the town.
Senior officials at the devolved unit have not been committal to our efforts to get comment on the burning sanitation problem within the town and our calls and text messages have gone unanswered.
An officer who pleaded for anonymity because he is not allowed to comment on such matters talked of millions of shillings that have been allocated towards putting up a sewerage system in the town in the past financial years but which have ended up being squandered by corrupt employees.
By George Agimba