When the sun is shining, residents of Membley estate in Kiambu County have little to worry about.
But things take a dramatic turn when the clouds start to turn dark and reality checks in. At that moment they can smell trouble.
Membley estate is a fast-growing suburb near Ruiru town. When it rains, pools of water, flooded roads and over-flowing stormwater drains characterise most parts of the estate.
Residents say the water is mixed with mounds of garbage, turning the area into an eyesore. But they now want the Kenya Urban Roads Authority (Kura) to intervene and help them out as the expansion of the Eastern Bypass into a dual carriageway takes shape.
The Sh12.5 billion project has started as the government moves to ease traffic on the key road linking Mombasa Road to Thika Road and beyond.
Residents have urged the agency to direct the contractor to reroute the water into the Mukuyu (China) River.
Kura created the problem and should deal with it, said Membley Park Residents Association chairman Antony Kung’u.
“Why bring stormwater from across the road to our estate? We are only asking them to correct a situation they created and which their resident engineer is aware of,” he said.
Residents who spoke to Nation.Africa said heavy rains always cause floods, converting their living rooms into swimming pools.
To compound the predicament of families, the rainwater often mixes with effluent from burst sewer lines.
“It is terrible and we cannot even leave our homes because the roads are impassable. Something should be done before matters worsen,” said Catherine Wangari, a resident of Kisima.
She blamed the contractor who built the Eastern Bypass, saying they did not have any issue before the road was built.
“I moved here in 2007, but before the bypass was constructed we didn’t have such problems. The problem started when the bypass was built and they directed the culverts to the estate,” she added.
Another resident, Charles Maina, said that his sitting room and bedroom flood and that his family must move valuable items to a safer corner of the house.
“We have to move from the ground floor and set up on the first floor of the house and what is worse is that someone can be electrocuted. Every time it rains we cannot do anything in the estate,” he lamented.
Emptying the water
Residents hop, skip and jump through the puddles of water while businesses are interrupted as their entrances are blocked by the sudden “lakes”, with flood-prone areas submerged in water.
“When it rains, I cannot access my house as usual because of the flash floods, and I have to wait for the pools of water to submerge. This is crazy and something has to be done,” added Grace Maina.
“They have refused to divert water trenches that are emptying the water to the estate and making its roads impassable.”
Ms Judy Kariuki, another resident, said they are living in fear of contracting waterborne diseases.
“The water might come into contact with our underground sewerage systems and if our children drink it, this could result in diseases like cholera,” said Ms Kariuki.
But their problems now seem far from over. Kura spokesman John Cheboi told Nation.Africa to ask the residents about the natural water wayleave, after confirming that the houses are not on road reserves.
“How does one reroute a river without affecting other stakeholders? They only have a challenge with stormwater. They built on a natural swampy area and they expect us to help drain water away,” he said.
But Mr Kung’u denied that they built their houses in swampy areas, saying they had written to Kura requesting them to take action.
“Please let them know that they ought to respond to our letter officially so that if they are backtracking on their responsibilities, we take the necessary action to stop the ongoing works until our issue is resolved,” he said.
“I will proceed to engage the other leaders to organise peaceful demonstrations this week.”
Kura is expanding the 28km road, which stretches through busy centres such as City Cabanas, Pipeline, Utawala and Ruiru and the work is being done by China Communication Construction Company Ltd.
Kura has not said when the project will be completed.
A spot check last weekend showed that the contractor had begun construction in Utawala, Embakasi and Membley.
Commercial and residential developments on the Eastern Bypass and Kangundo Road have piled pressure on the road, complicating the movement of people and goods on those routes.
Some of the areas that have seen an uptick in new projects are Kamakis, Utawala, Ruai, Kamulu, Joska, Malaa and Tala.
The bypass, one of the Vision 2030 infrastructure projects, was designed during the term of the Grand Coalition government.
Expansion of the bypasses
The dualling of the road was announced by former Transport Cabinet Secretary Macharia Kamau in 2017 but took time to start as the government sought funds.
Mr Kamau said the road should have been constructed as a dual carriageway from the start.
The dualling of the road is one of 11 infrastructure projects that the Kenyan government delegation showcased to global investors during the two-day Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing, China, in May 2017.
Others were the expansion of the Southern and Northern bypasses.
Chinese firms have increasingly won multibillion-shilling road contracts in Kenya.
China Roads and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) is at the tail end of completing the Sh72 billion Nairobi Expressway.
CRBC is building the 27.1km double-decker highway with privately sourced funds to be recovered through toll charges by its subsidiary, Moja Expressway, which will operate the road for nearly 30 years.
Dualling the road will also boost the proposed Kenyatta family-owned Northlands City that will straddle the Eastern Bypass and Thika Road.
Northlands City, a mega urban development consisting of residential, industrial and commercial buildings, will accommodate an estimated 250,000 people.
Easy access is key for attracting investors to the city, and that will bring up to 30,000 vehicles onto the Eastern Bypass and 27,000 onto Thika Road per day.