Leaders from the opposition and the governing Jubilee coalition are locked in a bitter war of words over the government plan to construct a mega water project in Murang’a County meant to increase water supply to Nairobi.
Cord leader Raila Odinga has accused the government of secretly implementing the project, which he said are risky and turning five counties that share the River Tana into deserts.
However, Kenya’s Water Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa swiftly responded back, saying that the Cord leader himself launched the mega water project in 2012 when he was Prime Minister and the project was part of the Nairobi Water Masterplan.
The minister accused Mr Odinga of involving politics in an exercise that will guarantee Nairobi residents continuous supply of water.
The Northern Collector Tunnel which is being built by the Athi Water Service Board to a tune of Sh6.8 billion in the Aberdare Mountains is being funded by the World Bank.
The project is meant to collect water from a number of rivers at their source and direct it to Ndakaini dam in Thika to be used in Nairobi.
Mr Odinga accused the Jubilee government of carrying out the project in secret because it was fully aware of the dire environmental consequences it would cause.
However, while responding to the accusation, the minister 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.
The minister said the development included analysis of water capacity, taking into consideration the welfare of downstream users, environmental aspects, projected future use for downstream communities on historical river flows and water availability.
The Cord leader had said that the water 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.
The opposition chief 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.
However, the minister said enough research had been done showing that aquatic life would not be tampered with 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 the minister, there were two other tunnels which have been in the area since the 1980s and they have not had any effect.
The opposition chief had said that the project goes against the Constitution — which makes public participation mandatory.
Additionally, Odinga said the water project contravenes the provisions of the Environmental Management Coordination Act, which also calls for 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.