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October 19, 2018

Fears many other dams unsafe after Solai tragedy

What remained of a homestead after raging waters from a burst dam washed through villages in Solai, Nakuru, leaving deaths and destruction in its wake. /COURTESY
What remained of a homestead after raging waters from a burst dam washed through villages in Solai, Nakuru, leaving deaths and destruction in its wake. /COURTESY

The National Environment Complaints Committee has raised doubts about the safety of most dams in the country, a day after dozens died in the Solai tragedy.

By Friday evening, the death toll had reached 48, with rescue efforts ongoing.

At least 40 people have been reported missing after relatives identified the dead. The Kenya Red Cross said 41 people had been rescued and taken to hospitals in Nakuru; 35 were treated and discharged by Thursday evening.

Six people were still in hospital — four at Provincial General Hospital and two at the Bahati subcounty hospital. About 500 families had been displaced.

Read: 44 swept to death as Nakuru dam bursts wall

The government started emptying two other dams at the Patel farm — Marigu and Milmet — after it emerged that their earthen walls were too weak to hold water.

All the three dams owned by Mansukul Patel were reported to be unlicensed, meaning they did not have formal inspection and approval certification. The killer dam occupied one acre on his large-scale flower farm.The farm management has denied they were illegal.

“The dams are weak and water has been seeping onto the road and into residential homes,” said Simon Wang’ombe, Rift Valley regional manager of the Water Resources Management Authority.

Residents around Solai had also noted leakage.

Secretary John Chumo said the committee has received numerous complaints about the safety of dams around the country, especially those privately owned.

“Most of these dams found in people's farms are not well managed. All the dams, whether public or private, are supposed to be managed well. And before they are built, their environmental impact is supposed to assessed,” Chumo told the Star.

“Through that environmental impact assessment (EIA), they [owners] will always say how they will be improving and managing them. Issues like safety, strength of the walls to determine if they are strong enough to hold water and ensuring that it is not easy for people or animals to access them should also be captured in the EIA,” he added.

Chumo said, however, the committee had not received any complaints about the Patel dams, which they will now investigate because of the catastrophe.

Read: Death toll in Solai dam tragedy rises to 44, missing 40

But the management of the Patel Coffee Estates, where the dam collapsed, said it was not to blame. It a denied that the reservoirs on the farm are illegal.

A senior manager at the firm, Vinod Jayakumar, denied that the dams were not licensed and blamed long torrential rains for the disaster.

“The dams are not illegal. The farm has existed for almost 60 years and the dam which collapsed has been there for almost 20 years. Just because of what happened you can't say it is illegal,” he told Citizen TV in an interview on Friday.

“It's a natural disaster, a natural calamity. It has happened. Now we have to look forward on how we can come out of this crisis," he added.

Yesterday, Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji ordered immediate investigations into the cause of the tragedy.

 “The DPP has directed the Police IG to carry out thorough investigations to establish the cause and culpability, if any, of the Patel Dam disaster and forward the resultant investigation file to him in 14 days,” a communique from the ODPP said.

DEPLOYED

Government spokesman Erick Kiraithe said KDF officers were on Friday deployed to the scene to complement the National Youth Service, the National Disaster Management Unit officials, Kenya Red Cross, Nakuru county government and other civilian rescue teams that have been on site since Wednesday.The dam burst on Wednesday evening.

“The government has focused on this unfortunate incident. Apart from the rescue operations that have been intensified, we have also focused on medical care and other relief efforts,” he said.

Kiraithe said a special team of investigators has already been dispatched to probe the accident and bring the culprits to book.

The government is also compiling the list of people affected for possible compensation. Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui said the exact number of the affected families was yet to established.

Education PS Belio Kipsang yesterday ordered closure of Solai Secondary School until search and rescue efforts were completed and the students’ safety ensured.

More: DPP orders probe into Nakuru dam tragedy, 40 still missing

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