Kenya: Health Crisis Looms in North Rift Over Poor Sewer Systems

A health crisis is looming in some North Rift counties due to broken sewerage and sanitation systems, the Nation has established.

Residents are now at risk of diseases as county governments struggle to implement multimillion-shilling projects.

In West Pokot, the fate of the Sh400 million Kapenguria-Makutano sewer plant at Psigirio hangs in the balance after the public opposed it due to health concerns.

The project funded by the African Development Bank was scheduled to be completed by June.

West Pokot is the only devolved unit that lacks a sewer line despite its high population.

Most affected are Kapenguria and Makutano towns, with a population of more than 80,000. The situation is worsened by frequent water shortages.

Solid waste collection is lacking in most parts as dirty water flows in open furrows. Raw sewage from Kapenguria and Makutano towns flows into nearby rivers, exposing locals to diseases.

The project faced challenges last year when locals became hostile and blocked the sewer line from passing through their land.

River Koturuk

Effluent from the towns flows into rivers, yet people downstream rely on the water for irrigation, animals and domestic use. One of the most affected is River Koturuk.

Residents of Mawingo Road, Mathare, Chewoyet, Bendera and Lutheran bear the brunt of the crisis.

Piped water from Kapenguria Water and Sewerage Company is unreliable as taps are often dry.

Data from health centres in the affected areas shows that most patients are treated for amoeba, typhoid, cholera, bilharzia, malaria and dysentery.

Mr Samuel Oruma, the acting chief executive of Central Rift Valley Water Works Development Agency, which is in charge of the project, said the community has refused to give out land.

"There has been a lot of negative publicity by a section of leaders, who say it's a taboo to live with human waste," he said.

In Baringo, the government has blamed the stalling of the Sh2 billion Kirandich dam, which includes a Sh700 million waste management phase for Kabarnet town, on the contractor.

Labour Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui regretted that the government could not sack the company because of a conditional grant clause in the contract.

The multibillion-shilling project, which involved extension of water supply to Kabartonjo, Kiboino, Kapkut, Kituro, Kabasis and Kaptorokwo towns, was expected to ease the perennial shortages in Baringo Central and Baringo North sub-counties.

The CS said the biggest challenge was that the contractor was identified by the Italian government funding the project, saying the government could not hire a different company because it was a conditional grant.

Conditional grant

"It was not possible to get another contractor because the project was a conditional grant from Italy. We were reduced to pleading and making follow-ups on when it would start," said Mr Chelugui last month.

"When I was in the Ministry of Water, we sat with the Italian corporation in 2018 after the expiry of the contract and they advised us to make a fresh application for a first extension of the contract, which we did. Eight months later, they replied indicating that the same contractor would continue with the project."

The contractor returned, prepared the site where the sewage and waste management plant was supposed to be put up, then left.

Kabarnet, the Baringo headquarters, has never had a sewer line since its inception and often relies on open lagoons, posing a health hazard to residents.

"We are calling on the national government to fast-track the construction of the sewerage and waste management system as this will help boost sanitation in the town," said Governor Stanley Kiptis last month.

Kabarnet ward rep Ernest Kibet lamented that successive governments had failed to put in place a sewerage system.

"The government is doing a disservice by giving us empty promises over the years. How can you explain a situation where a town, which is the county headquarters, with no sewer line since the colonial times?" Mr Kibet posed.

In Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County, the devolved unit seeks to connect the sprawling estates of Langas to the main Kipkenyo sewerage plant, says environment executive Mary Njogu.

"We do not have a crisis. In fact, we are trying to ensure all estates are connected to the system so it can be fully utilised. We are looking at Langas, Kipkorgot and other areas," said Ms Njogu, adding that the county has two sewerage systems.

"We are trying to pursue one for Kimumu and the surrounding areas because the gradient cannot allow them to use the existing ones. Residents there are currently using pit-latrines, exhausters and bio-digesters," she added.

Reports by Onyango K'Onyango, Oscar Kakai and Florah Koech

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