Douglas Dindi @PeopleDailyKE
Every time the big hand of the city clock on the King George IV Tower makes 30 degrees clockwise turn, it guarantees a direct discharge of at least one tonne of raw human waste into the open Lwating’u stream and its tributaries overlying the Shikhambi, Maraba and Emasera suburbs of Kakamega town.
The poopoo flows from vents opened by pent-up pressure in the tunnel or human activity along the 10km main sewer line whose endpoint, the Kambi Somali stabilisation sewer, is blocked and was allegedly decommissioned and shut down 10 years ago.
Established in the early 1990s to serve up to 20,000 of the town’s middle-income population in households and business establishments, the sewer facility now serves at least 60,000 people, thanks to exponential population growth in Sheywe ward over the past decade.
The flip side of that growth now manifests in the degrading interface for some residents residing along Lwating’u stream whose nauseous cargo of human waste, occasionally spills mess to farms, wells and springs in the lowlands whenever the stream burst its banks.
A promise of a quick fix to this messy affair, which was anchored on successful implementation and shift of Kambi Somali sewer connections to the German Development Bank-funded Maraba sewer project, is not in sight. It was stopped by a ruling of land and environment court last February.
Essau Omung’ala, an official of Maraba Residents Association, who successfully petitioned the court against Maraba Sewer questioned in a recent interview, “How strange is it that Kambi Somali sewer was decommissioned before the proposed Maraba sewer was operational?”
He insists the Maraba project was shrouded in mystery, giving them a reason to challenge its implementation in court on the ground of lack of land compensation structure and public participation. “No wonder Kambi Somali sewer grounds were shared before the new project was read,” he added.
Aziz Muhande, who grows Napier on a plot overlying the Kambi Somali ponds, says the situation in the area is worse than open defecation. Waste from the town’s affluent class ends in Lwating’u stream and returns to the market as vegetable, beef, chicken or fish.
He attributes the high water volume to a steady discharge of faecal waste and illicit piping connections from pit latrines in the low-end Makaburini, Jua Kali Phase IV, Scheme and Service estates and the town’s business and industrial premises.
“You can’t swim in here with all manner of this solid waste. The water is smelly and has changed colour to misty green due to sewage flows, which have become tributaries to the stream,” he says.
Lake Victoria North Water Works Development Agency (LVNWDA), the implementing agency, painted a picture of despair when asked about an action plan to ameliorate the brooding health crisis following the collapse of the Maraba project.
Chief executive officer Boniface Mulama says the Sh800 million project was supposed to be the game-changer but its collapse incensed the German bank, prompting them to pull out of all projects it was funding in western Kenya.
He denied that LVNWDA initiated the decommissioning of the Kambi Somali Sewer, putting the matter at the door of the county government, which, he says, is better placed to respond to issues of decommissioning such as gazette notice, change of use for that land and eventual re-allocation.
LVNWDA is not the only organisation under fire. Residents accuse the Kakamega County Water And Sanitation Company (Kacwasco) for allegedly worsening the situation by drilling of holes on the main sewer line around bus park and market areas, resulting in overflows into the nearby Masimgo stream.
When People Daily visited Kambi Somali Sewage Stabilisation Reservoir recently, the ponds were dry, surrounded by a plot of maize, vegetable and Napier grass. Several trenches were dug across the lagoons to empty minimal quantities of wastewater to adjacent springs.
Kacwasco says the court order on Maraba sewer was a big blow to their waste disposal plan, adding the firm was proposing a return to Kambi Somali reservoir.
Chief executive officer Fred Atwa said the company had approached the Water Association Trust Fund (WATF) with a proposal to fund the rehabilitation of the Kambi Somali sewer after the Maraba sewer fiasco.
“For this to happen, we require government intervention because there are issues of decommissioning, although I have not seen any document. Some well-connected individuals also claim ownership of Kambi Somali sewer land, others have invaded the sewer trunk line and built on it,” he noted.
County executive for the environment, water and natural resources Baraza Wangwe, however, preferred to blame his lands and urban planning counterpart, Alfred Matianyi, for the crisis, a position rebutted by the latter.
Matianyi said the mandate of managing the sewer rests with the environment and water docket, adding the minister should take responsibility.
“If you pride in supplying five million litres of water to residents daily, you must know 80 per cent of that will be wastewater,” he said, adding that though he was privy to reports of encroachment on the Kambi Somali sewer and sewer trunk line, no one has sought help to remove alleged encroachment, including private developers and churches sitting on the sewer line.