The calm flow of river Narok during the dry season can deceive many, especially the young people, that the river is harmless and a nice place for photography.
A visit to the river at the spot between the Maasai Mara University and GK prisons shows low water levels leaving huge stones scorching under the sun following the prolonged dry spell being experienced in the area.
However, the river is not as friendly as it looks as it has claimed tens of lives among them university students and a prison officer.
Maasai Mara University Dean of Students Mohamed Aden confesses that the river has claimed the lives of several university students who innocently go for picnic along the river only to drown in what seems as shallow water.
Aden who spoke to KNA in his office, a few days after a 19-year-old man drowned in the river, laments that four students have drowned in a period of two years that he has served as the dean of students.
He says that though the river looks friendly, there is a deep black spot surrounded by huge stones in what seems a beautiful scenery attractive for photo taking.
“Still waters run deep. In the latest incident, the first year student was in the company of his friends who had gone out for photo taking. The deceased requested his colleagues to take him a photo while standing in the water point that looks very attractive,” he explains.
It is at that point they realised that their colleague was drowning and attempts to save him were futile as he sunk deep into the water not to be seen.
“However calm the river might look during dry seasons, it is claiming more people than the rainy season when students keep off because of the raging waters,” he adds.
The dean of students recalls that last year when the college was closed because of Covid-19, a student who had been left behind to do manual work also drowned at the point.
In the year 2019, another university couple that was picnicking along the river drowned while attempting to walk along the river.
“It is sad that we are continuously losing students to a point that looks very calm yet very dangerous for humans,” he says.
Aden says the university has since started a sensitisation programme to create awareness of the dangerous spot to the students at the university and especially the first years.
“During the first year’s orientation, we will tell the new students of the dangers of the river and if possible avoid visiting the river banks completely,” he says.
The institution is also working with community leaders and elders to try to inform the members of the public on the dangers of swimming and even crossing the river.
Christopher Kemboi, the diver who has retrieved all the bodies from the river, said in the last two years, he has retrieved 14 bodies drowned in various points of river Narok and saved six other people from drowning.
Kemboi, a professional diver – trained by Kenya Navy, said the black spot is too deep as he once retrieved a body 14 meters deep.
He recalled some few years ago when he was called to retrieve the body of a prison officer who had drowned in the spot and whose body remained under the water for a whole week.
“The water in Narok is too hard and sometimes difficult to go deep. This is why some time it takes a long time to retrieve a body,” he reiterated.
Kemboi called on the County government to establish a well-equipped department of disaster management with professional divers with whom they can help in rescuing people from drowning or retrieving bodies.
He regretted that the county only majors on fire as a disaster and failed to train and equip divers to handle cases of water disaster.
“I recall recently I had to swim along the river Narok for over 17 kilometers so as to save a person who had been swept by the waters, unfortunately the man passed on,” he said.
The 34 year old man who was born in Kesses area, Uasin Gishu county and a father of three boys is the only diver in the county and is currently working in the disaster management department of the Maasai Mara University.
When asked how much he charges to retrieve the bodies, Kemboi said the talent is God given to rescue people hence he does the job free of charge.
“I believe if I ask for money in order to do this job I can easily drown in the water. This is why I do my job free of charge without discrimination,” said Kemboi.
Narok County police commander Kizito Motoro confirmed that at least four cases of drowning were being reported every week in the county.
He said that the river spot around the university was notorious as more cases were reported from the area.
The police commander called on the student and all the members of the public to avoid the spot completely and alternatively visit hotels or other recreation points in case they are interested in swimming.
Motoro called on students training to swim not to attempt doing so in the river as places deemed to be shallow can be extremely dangerous.
Wilson Ole Marima, a Narok resident living near the river, wants the government to erect a fence around the area and put signage that will warn new students and other members of the public against playing around the water point.
by Ann Salaton