- In 2007 the main River Tana made a diversion that led to the River Matomba slowly starting to dry up.
- Due to failed rains, the river has completely dried up. It was the water source for many years, and for the first time in 16 years, there's no water in that small river.
As Kenyans mark World Water Day on March 22, some villages in Tana River county on Kenya’s north coast are struggling to get water for domestic use.
Due to the drought in the Coast, a group of the residents of Garsen South ward and Kipini West in Tana River county were forced to join hands to dig seasonal rivers in the areas that had dried up.
They are searching for water for their animals and domestic use after five failed rains.
River Matomba, a stream that draws water from the River Tana, has dried up and about 45 communities living around that area have been affected.
Resident Timson Maneno of Tarasaa in 2007 the main River Tana made a diversion that led to the River Matomba slowly starting to dry up.
Due to the failed rains, the river has now completely dried up. It was the source of their water for many years, but for the first time in 16 years, they have no water in that small river.
“The water challenge has led to the suffering of 45 villages that were all depending on the section of this river for water for home use, their animals and for irrigation in the farms,” Maneno said.
The residents decided to dig up the river bed in search of water after the county government and the local leadership took too long to help.
Maneno said the county leadership under Governor Dhadho Godhana had promised to help them get water from the river bed, but the process is taking too long due to the procurement processes.
That is why they decided to join hands and start digging the place to find a short-term solution as they wait for a long-term solution from the national and county governments.
At least 300 youths have been mobilised to help in digging up the riverbed for water.
“We know it is going to take a lot of time yet people, hospitals and schools are suffering due to lack of water. Therefore, we ask residents to volunteer and find a short-term solution which was to dig up the river bed to get water from below the surface,” he said.
However, the residents have been forced to dig the ground using hoes, machetes and other sharp tools because they cannot afford to hire an excavator. Doing the work manually can take them up to a week, whereas an excavator can do the work in a day or two.
According to the residents, the national government tried to help them when Charity Ngilu was serving as Water Cabinet Minister during the grand coalition government between 2008 and 2013.
The government, according to the residents, had allocated Sh48 million to try and bring the river back to life, but the engineers who had been given the work failed to deliver.
Maneno called upon political leaders to listen to the cry of the 45 villages.
Tana Delta assistant county commissioner Fredrick Mwirigi ascertained that the local communities are really suffering.
“This community came to my office and requested to be allowed to dig up the river bed as they wait for a long-term solution from the county and national government,” he said.
Bonaya Mikaya, a resident from the Ngao area, said that River Matomba is the only source of life for the majority of Tana River residents.
Mikaya said the watermelon farmers in the region suffered huge losses after the river dried up. He said a loss of at least Sh700,000 was incurred by the farmers in the region.
“We are here today as a community to dig up the river so that we can get some water to sustain us for a few more days. We want to save our plants and people,” he said.
According to Mikaya, the local administration which includes chiefs and village elders came out to help the residents in their initiative because they know the importance of water in the region.
Benjamin Maneno, also a farmer from Tarasaa who owns three acres of a watermelon farm, said that he spent almost Sh15,000 to prepare his farm using a tractor, but now the little water he was depending on has dried up.
In total, he used Sh75,000 to do his farming and in return, after harvesting, he was expecting to get Sh700,000 but now all that will go for a loss because of lack of water.
"This is why we felt the pain and decided to come together and use our hands to do the work. We have dug and realised that there is little water here and we hope that we will get water in our farms," he said.
Maneno was expecting to harvest next month, but now due to lack of water, he might incur a loss of Sh600,000.
He said currently most residents have been forced to forego taking daily showers.
“You might spend up to Sh400 for six jerrycans of water from a well in Ngao area. Therefore, this river is everything that we have been depending on,” he said.
The Association of Engineers of Kenya Coast branch chairman Mwaka Mungatana, who is also a resident of Tana River, said the river will help thousands of locals if they are able to drill water.
He owns 10 acres of watermelons, but he cannot continue farming for lack of water.
“We have tried to dig up a well in the farm, but it only supports half an acre. Personally, I have anticipated making at least Sh6 million from watermelon farming. If we do not get enough water in the next two weeks, I will be counting huge losses,” he said.
Mungatana said he supports about 100 students from the region in paying for their education.
Neema Mwarabu, another resident from Ngao village, said life in the region is very tough.
She added that animals’ feed has also dried up.
“Some of us have been forced to abandon farming. We walk for so many kilometres to get water and spend a whole day waiting for that precious commodity,” she said.
Dela Bonaya said as parents they are forced to buy food and water daily, yet they do not have employment opportunities.
She said the children are forced to wear dirty clothes because washing the clothes becomes a luxury for thousands of residents who do not know where they will get water next.
“Personally, I have been forced to buy water daily. My goats consume four jerrycans daily, I need water for home consumption and farming too,” she said.
(Edited by V. Graham)