When Government announced plans to construct 125,000 household water pans countrywide by 2022 to harvest excess waters during flooding for domestic use residents in Taita-Taveta County celebrated.
Floods have been wreaking havoc in many parts of the county for years and such water pans, touted as a long-lasting solution to the flooding menace, would definitely come as a relief to many residents.
The water pans, a programme of Ministry of Water under National Irrigation Board (NIB), would also boost water storage for use in irrigation and support food production in line with one of the Big Four Agenda.
However, barely two months after the project kicked off in Taita-Taveta County, concerns over the safety standards of the households water pans have started to emerge as 13 households in Maungu and Kale villages were allegedly displaced after one of the pans overflowed following heavy downpour in the region.
Closely following the displacement was the tragic report of a four-year old boy who drowned in one of the water pans at Marungu area.
The two incidents have triggered alarm amongst residents who now want assurance that the water pans are safe and will not cause future disasters in the villages. They are also asking the government to ensure the pans are properly fenced to ward off future tragedies.
Mr. Idris Mohammed, who participated in evacuation of the affected residents to safer grounds, said the pans were becoming a hazard to the residents with the continued rainfall.
He added that the government should make sure the walls of the pans were strong enough to reduce the risks of disasters.
“We are worried about our safety. If we get consistent heavy rainfall, we will have a big disaster in our hands,” he said.
While giving a brief on national government projects during the County Development Implementation and Coordination Committee (CDICC), Mr. Raphael Mutiso, an official with State Department for Irrigation and representing National Irrigation Board, disclosed that Taita-Taveta County was allocated several water pans with a total carrying capacity of 128,700 m3. This is equivalent of pans carrying 128.7 million liters of water.
He added that the water pans would be constructed in Marungu area in Voi sub-county and in Mwatate.
“The actual number of water pans constructed will be determined by the carrying capacity of each,” he explained.
He stated that all due diligence had been done with getting consent from land-owners before the project kicked off. He also said that environmental impact assessment and safety evaluation was conducted to ensure all risks were addressed.
The household water pans’ carrying capacity ranges from between 1000m3 (One million liters) to 3,000m3 (three million liters).
But the residents fear that the contractors should place safety of the local residents first even as they dig more water pans.
Mr. Mohammed Abdi, a resident, claimed the villages have not experienced flooding of such magnitude and blamed the water pans and Standard Gauge Railway (SGR)’s embankment for their predicament.
“There are no safe routes for water to be channeled away. All excess water is directed towards homesteads,” he alleged.
Marungu Member of County Assembly (MCA) Mr. Paul Waweru supported the project and said it was beneficial to the local residents.
He disclosed that over 1,000 residents had given their consent to NIB officials to have the water pans constructed on their farms. He added that so far, 70 water pans have been built in his ward. He promised to push for the remaining residents who have applied to be added to the list of beneficiaries.
He however regretted the loss of life and displacement but blamed it on several factors including failure of beneficiaries to put up proper fences to secure the pans.
He added that NIB should also evaluate the ability of a resident to secure the pan immediately it was completed to avoid tragedies.
“The owners of such pan have to do their part including fencing and making it secure. The irrigation board should ensure the beneficiaries of the programme are able to fence off such sensitive zones,” said the MCA.
He further warned against demonizing the project noting that such drawbacks often occurred when implementing large-scale projects.
When contacted, Chief Officer in-charge of Special programmes Mr. Liverson Mghendi said the county government has alerted NIB to help secure the water pans.
“The matter has been escalated to National Irrigation Board and we hope they will take action to secure the water pans,” he said.
By Wagema Mwangi