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Big row over Sh6 billion Nairobi water supply project

Leaders from Cord and the governing Jubilee coalitions were Monday locked in a war of words over the construction of a mega water project in Murang’a County aimed at increasing water supply to Nairobi.

Cord leader Raila Odinga fired the first salvo in the morning, accusing the government of secretly implementing the project, which he said risked turning five counties that share the River Tana into deserts.

However, Water Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa swiftly hit back, saying that Mr Odinga launched the project in 2012 when he was Prime Minister and that it was part of the Nairobi Water Masterplan.

PLAYING POLITICS

He accused Mr Odinga of playing politics with an undertaking that will guarantee Nairobi residents continuous supply of water.

The Sh6.8 billion Northern Collector Tunnel is being built by the Athi Water Service Board in the Aberdare mountains, with funding from the World Bank.

It is meant to collect water from the rivers at their source and divert it to Ndakaini dam in Thika for use in Nairobi.

Mr Odinga claimed that Jubilee was carrying out the project in secret because it was aware of the dire environmental consequences it would cause.

However, while responding to the allegations, Mr Wamalwa questioned why Mr Odinga was taking issue with the project now, yet he launched it on September 18, 2012, together with then-Water Minister Charity Ngilu.

WATER BALANCE

The CS said the development included analysis of water balance, taking into account the welfare of downstream users, environmental flows, projected future use for downstream communities based on historical river flows and water availability.

Mr Odinga had said that the project targeted all the seven rivers that feed the Tana.

“The technical and feasibility reports that are also available to the government show that the project will turn Murang’a, Garissa, Ukambani and Tana River Delta regions into deserts in five years,” Mr Odinga had said at a press conference in his Capitol Hill office.

He also showed a video on the construction of the tunnel, which is opposed by Murang’a residents.

“The World Bank has classified this project under the Environmental Category ‘A’, which means it has a potential for irreversible large-scale conversion or degradation of natural habitats,” Mr Odinga said, adding that former Environment Minister John Michuki had objected to the project before he died.

LINED WITH CONCRETE

However, Mr Wamalwa said enough studies had been done showing that aquatic life would not be disrupted and the water tunnel would not interfere with ground water in the named regions because “the tunnel will be fully lined with concrete”.

According to him, there were two other tunnels which have existed in the area since the 1980s and they have had no adverse effect.

Mr Odinga had said that the project goes against the Constitution — which makes public participation mandatory.

Further, he said, the project goes against the provisions of the Environmental Management Coordination Act, which also requires proper public participation before any project is designed and implemented.

“Another concern is that this project was designed, commissioned and construction commenced before an Environmental Impact Assessment report was prepared and before a licence was issued by the National Environment Management Authority,” said the Cord leader.

ILLEGAL ACTIVITY

He said the terms of reference for the conduct of the Environmental Impact Assessment were not approved until July 2014 and the report was not approved until four months later.

The licence by Nema was not issued until February 2015.

“This is unconstitutional, criminal, a blatant abuse of power and a grievous derogation of the rights of the people affected,” said Mr Odinga.

But Mr Wamalwa said that Nema conducted the proper assessment and issued a licence on February 9, 2015.

He said contrary to assertions that the project was being undertaken without public participation, the ministry had since August 2011 hosted several public forums in both Murang’a and Nairobi.

“The project has been debated in the Murang’a County Assembly and endorsed for implementation. Also, adequate hydrological studies on the project have been undertaken and it is confirmed that downstream users will have priority on water usage,” he said

According to him, Nairobi receives 540,000 cubic metres a day against a daily requirement of 700,000.

HUGE DEFICIT

“We have a huge deficit and it is crazy to even say that the water that will be channelled to Ndakaini will flood the city,” said the CS.

According to him, the project was a Vision 2030 flagship and was one of the undertakings meant to transform Kenya into a middle income economy.

Earlier, Mr Odinga had said that the assessment was itself a scandal because when it was being carried out, there was a shortage of important data.

“Some of that unavailable data is the hydrological mapping of the underground water system in Murang’a and how that system affects the larger Murang’a area and the rest of the River Tana basin,” he said.