Waters shortages hit Kabarnet residents as Sh2b project stalls

Locals queuing at Kiberenge springs on the outskirts of Kabarnet town

Locals queuing at Kiberenge springs at the outskirts of Kabarnet town. An acute water shortage has hit the town and it's environs for the past one month.

Photo credit: Florah Koech | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Power to the pumping station was cut two weeks ago over an unpaid bill of Sh3 million.
  • Mechanical problems caused by ageing pumping machines have also been cited as a major setback.

Thousands of residents of Kabarnet and its environs who rely on the Kirandich dam for water are upbeat that phase two of the project will end perennial water shortages.

The project was supposed to be completed in 2018 but it stalled.

An Italian firm won the contract in 1994 to build a 14 million cubic-metre reservoir to supply water to about 23,000 people in the town and its surroundings.

But power to the pumping station was cut two weeks ago over an unpaid bill of Sh3 million, and locals must now walk long distances to get water from springs.

The dam is managed by the Kirandich Water Company, which is under the Central Rift Valley Water Works Development Agency.

Power disconnected

Kenya Power had disconnected electricity to the Kituro supply point a month earlier over an unpaid bill of more than Sh9 million.

Resident Esther Chepkwony lamented that they now have to queue for long hours at springs to get water.

“We are in danger of contracting waterborne diseases by consuming contaminated and uninspected water from springs,” Ms Chepkwony said.

Mechanical problems caused by ageing pumping machines have also been cited as a major setback. The equipment has not been updated since the dam started operations two decades ago.

Water supply was also previously rationed after four of the five machines broke down, limiting the pumping of water from the dam to the storage tank uphill in Kabarnet, six kilometers away.

A section of the multi-billion Kirandich dam on the outskirts of Kabarnet town

A section of the multi-billion Kirandich dam on the outskirts of Kabarnet town. 

Photo credit: Florah Koech | Nation Media Group

The water in the dam is sufficient to serve the growing population but shortages were caused by the aging equipment and higher consumption, Kirandich Water Company managing director Philip Chepsat told the Nation.

“Initially, there were five pumps that were supplying water to the storage tank in Kabarnet. Four of them have broken down over the years and the one which was replaced in 2019 also broke down …, dealing a big blow to water supply,” Mr Chepsat said.

Huge pumping costs

He added that the company incurs “huge costs pumping water uphill using electricity to the storage tank, spending more than Sh2.5 million on monthly electricity bills alone”.

The company is virtually operating at a loss, spending more than Sh42 million on electricity annually against Sh23 million collected from clients, said Water Chief Officer Moses Lokidor.

“The only solution to this perennial problem is completion of the phase two project,” Mr Lokidor said. 

“As we speak, we have water bill arrears of Sh3 million and we recently cleared another Sh9 million after electricity to the pumping station at the dam was disconnected. The problem has also been aggravated by illegal connections.”

On a tour to the area last year, Labour CS Simon Chelugui blamed the stalling of the Sh2 billion project on an inefficient contractor, saying the government could not sack him because of a conditional grant clause in the contract.

The biggest challenge, he stated, 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 is a conditional grant.

Unfavorable financing agreement

He said the finance agreement between the two governments was not favourable to Kenya and called for a review and a fresh advertisement after the contract expired.

“We were reduced to regular pleading and making follow-ups on when it would start,” said Mr Chelugui.

“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 extension of the contract, which we did. Eight months later, they replied, indicating that the same contractor will continue with the project.”

The contractor returned to the site, levelled an area where a sewage and waste management system was to be set up and left.

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

The design also included building a sewage and waste management system in Kabarnet for Sh700 million.

“The problem with this project is the contracting ... Even if we renew and extend it, it is not going to change the situation. It can only be done through a serious bilateral engagement with the Italian government to get a new contractor who will handle the project,” Mr Chelugui said at the time.

Grant expiry

He said the Sh2 billion conditional grant from the Italian government will expire in June 2023 and the project should be done hastened.

Mr Chelugui said phase two of the project was expected to introduce a power plant to deliver water to the main tank, reducing electricity costs.

The county spends more than Sh4 million every month to pay for electricity used at the dam against the water company’s income of Sh2 million.

“They are going at a loss of Sh2 million every month through payment of power bills,” Mr Chelugui said. 

“The solution by the government was to erect a power plant that would generate its own energy to pump water from the dam to the main tank for distribution, so as to end the perennial water shortage [caused] by disconnection of power over unsettled bills.” 

The second phase was also expected to distribute water to 65,000 people compared with the current 12,000.

Kabarnet, established in the colonial era, is Baringo County's headquarters, but it does not have a sewer line and relies on open lagoons, posing a health hazard to residents.

“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, has had no sewer line since colonial times?” said Kabarnet MCA Ernest Kibet.

“As we speak, locals are at risk of contracting diseases owing to the raw sewage flowing all over.”

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