Taveta risks suit over 300 displaced by floods

Activist threatens to sue NCA, county and Nema for approving construction on riparian land

In Summary

• Families living near Voi River were displaced as their houses were submerged by raging waters after the river burst its banks.

• Nema and NCA blame county for poor coordination with other pro-environment agencies. Improper approval of buildings cited, illegal sand harvesting that weakened river banks.


Taita Taveta Governor Granton Samboja at a past event.
OFFICERS INTERDICTED: Taita Taveta Governor Granton Samboja at a past event.

A Voi-based activist wants to sue the National Construction Authority, Nema and Taita Taveta for approving construction of houses on flood-prone riparian land along Voi River. 

Environmentalist Waki Jarongo on Wednesday said the agencies should be held accountable for the loss of property amounting to millions of shillings following the Sunday floods.

About 300 families were left homeless in Tanzania, Mnaoni and Msambweni estates in Voi subcounty.

The families living near Voi River were displaced as their houses were submerged by raging waters after the river's banks burst. They are now camping at Voi and Kalela primary schools.

“There is enormous corruption within the agencies that are supposed to check on the safety of Kenyans. How did they approve the construction of houses in an illegal area?” Waki asked. He said he agencies should be compelled to compensate the victims.

The tragedy, Waki said, had exposed the ignorance, corruption and unpreparedness of the county government’s disaster management team.

“We are not even sure whether the county disaster management team exists because had it not for the Red Cross Society, we would have lost many lives. The government should wake up from this laxity and act,” he added.

On Monday, Governor Granton Samboja suspended the acting Enforcement director Darius Sowene, Environment officer in charge of Voi subcounty and all the enforcement and revenue officers who were on duty 10 days before the disaster.

Samboja said the tragedy could have been avoided had it not for the negligence of the interdicted officers. He accused the officers of collaborating with rogue officers from other agencies to protect illegal activities in the riparian land.

He further ordered the immediate banning of sand harvesting, brick and mortar making along Voi River.

“People’s lives are more important than sand harvesting,” the county boss said. He attributed the massive flooding to encroachment on the Voi River.

However, National Environment Management Authority county director Edith Kalo said the county should solely be held responsible for not supporting other stakeholders in protecting the environment.

In an exclusive interview with the Star on Tuesday, Kalo said some political leaders from the region have been frustrating other agencies seeking to restore order along the river.

“In some of these areas, county enforcement and revenues officers collect revenue from sand harvesters, knowing it's an illegal activity but the county government is supporting them,” she said. 

Kalo said more than 10 cases of sand harvesting are still pending in court. She said the agency is holding awareness forums to educate the community on environmental conservation and the dangers of san harvesting.

NCA official Ondiek Hassan said that ending construction on the riparian land has been slowed by poor coordination between the county government and other agencies.

He rejected claims that NCA had been compromised to allow construction along the river. He said the county approved the house plans without consulting relevant agencies, thus jeopardising their efforts to stop the construction.

“It is difficult to stop construction for a person who has already acquired approvals from the county government. We are advising other stakeholders to adopt a collaborative approach in curtailing illegal construction to avert further tragedy,” Ondiek told the Star on the phone.

A 2018 report by the county government revealed that more than 220 houses on riparian land had been marked for demolition for failing to meet standards, such as distance from the water.

Edited by R.Wamochie