Fear as Laikipia colonial-era dam threatens to break its banks

A part of Mukurweini dam in Laikipia countyin this photo taken on September, 29, 2022. The colonial dam is on the verge of breaking its banks with the spillage risking the lives of people living downstream.The government has since issued a flooding alert to people living downstream

Photo credit: Steve Njuguna | Nation Media Group

A colonial-era dam in Muthengera, Laikipia County, is on the verge of breaking its banks, putting the lives of people living downstream at risk.

The Mukurweini dam, which sits on 16 acres and serves over 4,000 residents and their livestock in Laikipia and Baringo counties, has been leaking for the last two weeks.

“A few days ago, shocked parents had to withdraw their children from a nearby school, fearing that the dam might burst,” said Mr John Mathai, who lives in the area.

Mr Waweru Kahure, another resident, called for immediate intervention from the county and the national government.

“Our fear is that if this area receives good rains in the next two days, the increase in water volumes can cause great damage,” he said.

The dam, whose water level is near the brim, now poses a flooding risk in Karandi, Tandare and Kianugu villages downstream, said Muthengera location Chief Charles Ngunjiri.

He said the situation was worsened by a contractor who was harvesting water for the Central Rift Valley Water Works.

“The contractor, who has since abandoned the project, loosened the dam’s banks while laying pipes by cutting down trees around the dam,” he said.

“Our efforts to persuade the contractor to come and fix the problem have been futile.”

The government was working to avert a possible disaster, said Gituamba Assistant County Commissioner Maurine Wanjiru when she issued a flooding alert to the people living around the dam.

“Our worry is that if the dam breaks, people living downstream might suffer. We are engaging the county government, county disaster management and [environment watchdog] Nema to avert the looming danger,” Ms Wanjiru said.

But as the dam fills up, other parts of Northern and Eastern Kenya have acute water shortages.

In Laikipia North several rivers and water pans have dried up and residents must walk long distances in search of water.

Herders are fleeing the area with their livestock in search of water and pasture in other parts of Kenya.

“Due to the drought situation, at least 7,000 herders from the affected parts of the county have moved to the Mt Kenya forest in search of water and pasture for their livestock where herders from Meru and Isiolo have also moved,” said Golicha Guyo, the Laikipia coordinator for the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA).

The NDMA had said that an estimated 183,000 people in Laikipia North and Laikipia East were affected by the drought and faced starvation, with women, children and the elderly hit hardest.