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Uhuru promises cleaner River Athi in Ukambani visit

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Cabinet Secretary for Water, Sanitation and Irrigation Sicily Kariuki (centre) alongside other officials during an inspection tour of Thwake Dam in Makueni County, which is currently under construction, on July 9, 2021.


President Uhuru Kenyatta has pledged that his government will clean River Athi, which is heavily polluted mainly by open sewers and unscrupulous factories in Kajiado, Kiambu, Machakos and Nairobi counties.

Mr Kenyatta spoke Friday while inspecting ongoing works at the project site of the Sh42 billion Thwake Dam project.

“We shall do whatever it takes to ensure that the pollution on River Athi, which takes place upstream and ends up exposing communities downstream [to many risks], is sorted out because it is the right of every Kenyan to access clean water,” he said.

The multipurpose dam sits on 9,127 acres of land in Kitui and Makueni counties. It is expected to provide water for domestic use and irrigation, and inject 20 megawatts of electricity into the national grid upon its completion.

More than 60 per cent of the water that will be collected in the dam will be pumped to run Konza Techno City, a smart city the government is setting up at the boundary of Machakos and Makueni counties.

The dam project, which is being undertaken by China Gezhouba Group Company, is 56 per cent complete, according to Samuel Alima, the project’s lead engineer.

Although the water reservoir, the main component of the dam project, is expected to be completed in November next year, Mr Alima said plans are underway to ensure it is completed five months earlier.

“Thanks to this dam, the Ukambani region will soon become one of the country’s food baskets,” the President said.

His visit came barely a week after Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu released a bombshell – that the dam water was unfit for human consumption.

The latest Auditor-General’s report states that the water entering Thwake dam is not safe as it was drawn from Athi River, which gets most of its water from the polluted Nairobi River.

“Nairobi River is heavily polluted with heavy metal and the water is unfit for human consumption…,” part of the report by Ms Gathungu reads, adding, “there was no evidence of efforts by the implementing agency to mitigate against the risk and ensure the river is free from pollutants and that the water is fit for human consumption before the end of the expected completion of the programme in November 2022”.

Water, Sanitation and Irrigation Cabinet Secretary, Sicily Kariuki, downplayed the Auditor-General’s report.

However, she admitted that the water from Nairobi and Athi rivers was polluted for reasons including land degradation, informal settlements and the direction of sewage being directed to them.

CS Kariuki said plans were underway to ensure clean water reaches the residents.

“A multi-agency team led by the Water secretary at the ministry will mitigate the pollution under the Nairobi regeneration program, in which we are focusing on the rehabilitation of burst sewer lines in informal settlements. We are also offering ablution blocks to the informal settlement dwellers. This way, no sewage can be contained in a manner that does not allow it to flow into rivers,” she told the Nation.

The CS also revealed that the government and the African Development Bank had partnered on a Sh10 billion project aimed at improving infrastructure, which is a key focus on the sewerage infrastructure.

“We are also using the project to increase sewer lines in Nairobi. We have another Sh10 billion in a partnership with the French Bank to deal with issues of sewerage and sanitation for Nairobi and its environs. Effectively, we have interventions that will ensure that by the time the dam will be filling, we will have safe water fit for use. No government can give its people something bad,” she said.

The Auditor-General’ report, which confirms a Nation expose published two years ago which revealed that River Athi, the dam’s main source of water, is heavily polluted with high levels of bacteria and toxic contaminants, has alarmed residents and local leaders who feel that the water which the dam will collect at the dam will be unsafe for human consumption unless it is treated.

The President, however, exuded confidence that the river will be clean. He directed the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) to speedily stem the River Athi pollution by stopping irresponsible factories from draining raw effluent into the permanent river which drains into the Indian Ocean.

Mr Kenyatta, who was accompanied by ODM leader Raila Odinga, was received by leaders including Wiper chief Kalonzo Musyoka and governors Alfred Mutua (Machakos), Charity Ngilu (Kitui) and Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni).

He defended his administration’s focus on the development of mega infrastructure projects, which he termed a catalyst for the country’s economic takeoff.

Mr Musyoka used the opportunity to downplay political differences between him and a section of local politicians, including the three governors in the region.

The former vice president joined the governors in commending the President on undertaking major projects in the region. –