Patel Dam Disaster exposes impunity, rot in government.


The Wednesday night’s incident where nearly 50 people died after heavy rains caused Patel Dam in Solai, Nakuru County to burst, sweeping away homes across a vast area of farmland, has exposed high levels of impunity and the government’s unpreparedness to prevent such disasters.

According to officials of the Water Resources Management Authority (WARMA), the dam is one of seven ‘illegal’ dams in Patel Coffee Estates Ltd.

Solai residents say that access to the expansive 2,000-acre farm owned by very little is known Mansukul Patel is strictly restricted.

The Patel farm or Mimet Solai, as the farm is known, have a horticulture farm known as Solai Flowers, a coffee plantation and are involved in dairy farming.  Visitors to the farm are normally of Asian origin.

It is alleged that a while ago, the dam started showing cracks and leaked before the disaster and some residents reported the issue to the management and also tried to prevail upon them to repair the dam.

Some residents of Nyakinyua Farm in Solai, Nakuru have blamed two State agencies for the Patel Farm dam tragedy.

They have accused the National Construction Authority (NCA) and the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) of failing to inspect the dam despite being informed about cracks on the walls.

The residents wondered how the dam had not been inspected by the two agencies to ensure its safety only for them to rush to the scene after tragedy had happened and tell them how the projects were substandard.

Patrick Kimani, a survivor, said he had reported the cracks at the offices of the two agencies in Nakuru town but no action was taken.

“The collapse of the dam highlights the failure to rein in malpractices. We had complained of cracks but no one took action,” said Kimani.

However, an official of the NCA who did not wish to be named absolved the agency from blame “because the dam was constructed inside a farm which was inaccessible” and that the agency lacks adequate manpower to inspect all construction projects in the country.

On his part, Simon Wang’ombe, WARMA Regional Manager for the Rift Valley said officials from agency had been visiting the farms occasionally.

“We had been pushing him to repair that one but this other one we didn’t anticipate,” said Wang’ombe.

He said the authority has been asking the management of the farm to regularise the seven dams as none of them have been cleared by engineers from the government agency, meaning they were illegal.

“For the last one year, we have been trying to engage the company on how to legalise the dams but they have been reluctant. As far as we are concerned, the dams are illegal,” said Wang’ombe.

The law requires that any private dam going beyond five metres high needs to be regularised by the authority. 


Gap in the law.

This tragedy has also exposed a gap in the law, which stipulates that NEMA inspect dams “only after those building them have applied for a licence”.

This brings to the fore the difficulty in monitoring and regulating dam projects.

“NEMA does inspection only by invitation,” the authority’s communications officer. That is why, as an agency, we are now asking ourselves: How do we come to you and ensure that you are complying even when you have not applied for a licence, or after it has been approved?” Evans Nyabuto quipped.

The dam that burst was built in the 80s. NEMA started issuing environmental impact assessment certificates only after June 2003, when the parent law came into force, raising questions about the standards of dams built before then.

As Kenyans came to terms with the tragedy, experts say many related factors could have contributed to the incident, especially the weakening of the dam’s walls, reducing their capacity to hold the additional water that came with the heavy rains.

According to the Hansard, the dam, during its construction in 1980, was allowed “2,500 gallons (9,465lt) of water per day for domestic use and 40,000 gallons (151,416 lt) per day for irrigation, puffing and washing”.

But government officials said it had 80 million litres of water, 72 million of which poured out to the neighbouring villages, killing tens and destroying property.

Disaster Bill gathering dust in Parliament.

It has emerged that a Disaster Bill has been before the National Assembly since last year. The number of lives recently lost in disasters across the country could have been reduced if the National Assembly passed this Bill.

The Bill addresses the issue of funding and response chains. The delayed consideration and passage of the Disaster Bill is a contributor to the happenings.

The matter falls under the Ministry of Interior, under which the National Disaster Operations Centre (NDOC) operates, and the Ministry of Devolution, where the Department of Special Programmes lies.

The situation is complicated by the devolving of disaster management to counties, leaving the mandate of co-ordination to the national government. In the current arrangement, the national government can only step in to assist counties when the disaster is beyond the counties' capacity and there is need for intervention.

The Government however declined to allocate a Sh4.4 billion contingency fund to counties to manage disasters.

Even with the setting up of NDOC in 1998 following the adverse effects of El Nino rains, Kenyans continue to bear the brunt of flooding and other disasters. The agency says it is not to blame.

Under the current budget, the Ministry of Devolution was allocated Sh8.9 billion, while the Ministry of Interior received Sh130 billion. In the supplementary budget, the National Assembly’s Budget and Appropriations Committee approved Sh300 million to address flooding.

Disaster response.

In the Solai case, county officials said devolving disaster response helped save lives.

“This is why the county was able to respond promptly to the tragedy,” said Beatrice Obwocha, the Nakuru communication director.

In his speech to senators and Members of Parliament early this month, President Uhuru Kenyatta acknowledged the establishment of the committees in the counties.

“The Government committed Sh1.8 billion in emergency cash assistance for 13 counties most affected by drought during the reporting year. Through the initiative, an estimated Sh1.8 billion was disbursed through mobile money transfers,” said the President.

He said the Government was actively involved in disaster mitigation in the counties.
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