A major water crisis has hit Kabarnet, Baringo County’s capital, and its environs, with locals forced to queue at springs, undermining Ministry of Health guidelines that encourage social distancing as a way to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
With limited water sources in the area, residents are also flouting curfew rules as many fetch water through the night.
The shortage is blamed on the disconnection of power at the Kirandich dam, a major water source. Kirandich Water Company, which is managed by the Central Rift Valley Water Works Development Agency, owes over Sh7 million in unpaid electricity bills.
Locals also complained that they cannot follow the guidelines on frequent handwashing because there is a shortage of water for drinking, let alone washing hands.
Catherine Chelal lamented that they queue for long hours at the Emunyar and Kiberenge springs, a few kilometres from the town, to get water.
“We have experienced acute water shortages for the last six days amid the Covid-19 pandemic… There are no rivers in the town and we queue at the few springs far away, posing a health risk as well,” she said.
Residents have also raised fears that the water shortage could raise the risk of a cholera outbreak and other waterborne diseases in the area with a population of more than 60,000 residents.
“We are now in danger of contracting waterborne diseases by consuming contaminated and uninspected water from springs,” said Daniel Ruto.
He said the situation has been worsened by the town’s lack of sewer lines, with wastewater flowing in open gullies and trenches.
Residents are now threatening to stage demonstrations if their plight is not addressed by the authorities.
Hoteliers in Kabarnet, led by Patrick Cheburet, said recurrent water shortages raise their operational costs because they have to hire water trucks to fetch water from the dam, over seven kilometres from the town, with 16,000 litres costing Sh4,000 a trip.
A closure directive from the public health department was hurting their business, he said, as operators sometimes cancel hotel room bookings, which also inconveniences their clients.
They feared that there might be a cartel colluding with some officials of the water company to stop paying their bills and purchasing substandard spare parts, which break down regularly.
Schools have not been spared either, with students wasting valuable study time to fetch water from the Emunyar spring, the only lifeline for residents.
Among those hit the hardest are Kapropita Girls, Kaptimbor and Kabarnet Boys secondary schools, Kapropita Primary, Kiptilit, AIC Visa Oshwal, Kaprogonya, Kings Hill Academy, and Kaptimbor and Mumol primary schools.
Area MCAs, led by Bartabwa Ward Rep Reuben Chepsongol and his Sacho counterpart John Tarus, accused Kabarnet Water Company of inefficiency.
“The water company is grappling with managerial problems that need to be streamlined. Water leakages and payment of water bills is still a big problem that needs to be addressed,” Mr Chepsongol said.
They also appealed to the government to fast-track the Sh2 billion phase two dam, which would see the extension of water supplies to Kabartonjo, Kiboino, Kapkut, Kituro, Kabasis and Kaptorokwo, thereby easing the perennial water shortages in Baringo Central and Baringo North sub-counties.
The project, once completed, will be a game-changer for locals because it will introduce a power plant that will pump water from the source to destinations instead of incurring costs in distributing water from the dam, which is in a lower area.
The design also includes the construction of a sewerage system and waste management in Kabarnet at a cost of Sh700 million.
The cost of pumping water from the dam to the main tank in Kabarnet is normally an expensive affair, with the devolved unit spending more than Sh4 million every month against revenue of Sh2 million per month.
The situation has put the county government at loggerheads with Kenya Power, which usually disconnects power when bills are not paid, plunging the area into frequent water shortages.Close
On a visit to the area, Labour Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui blamed the stalling of the Sh2 billion Kirandich dam in Baringo on an inefficient contractor, whom the government could not fire because of a conditional grant clause in the contract.
The biggest challenge, he said, was that the contractor was identified by the Italian government, which is also the financier of the project, and the government could not get a different company because the funding was a conditional grant.
He said the financing agreement between the two governments was not favourable to Kenya and called for a review and a fresh advertisement after the contract expired.
“It was not possible to get another contractor then because the project was a conditional grant from Italy and the contract awarded to the contractor by the financier expired. We were reduced to regular pleading and making follow-up on when it would start,” he said.
He said the Sh2 billion conditional grant from the Italian government expires in June 2023 and an urgent intervention should be made to speed up the project.
VIA ALL AFRICA.