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Looming humanitarian crisis at the Sh38billion Itare Dam

Racheal Chumo, 53, emerges from her makeshift house at one of the IDP camps in Itare, Kuresoi North, Nakuru County. Left: Mary Taroroti with her child inside their makeshift house in Itare. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Nancy Korir, 65, has lived in Songol-Chesireret for over 25 years. This is the place where she has given birth to and raised her five children.

But her life was turned upside down on the evening of March 24, when earth-movers and bulldozers descended on the area – flattening homes and crops.

Songol-Chesireret was renamed Itare by the national government when it set out to build a Sh38 billion dam, a noble project funded by the Italian government.

Ten Administration Police officers under the command of local Assistant Chief John Mutai supervised the demolition of Ms Korir’s and other villagers’ homes.

“They buried all our belongings in the rubble,” recounted a teary Korir.

After the momentary shock, the villagers rushed to the few remaining homes trying to salvage whatever they could.

The very sick and the old, who were lying in bed that cloudy evening, were whisked away by the askari minutes before the bulldozer wrecked their homes.

“My sick father was lying in bed and refused to heed our pleas to get out of the house. He told us to go away and leave him to be crushed by the bulldozer. He was ready to die. The askari had to pull him out and his right leg was injured in the process,” said Jane Cheptoo.

Steady drizzle

That night, more than 500 people spent the night in the cold, braving a steady drizzle. They covered their children with clothes and a few tattered blankets they had salvaged.

“By nightfall, I had not been able to retrieve my belongings, including blankets, from the debris. It began drizzling and I had no option but to use my sweater to cover my two young grandchildren,” said Roseline Temuge, a 70-year-old widow whose grandchildren were left in her care by her daughter who works as a maid in Nakuru.

For the past one month, the families have been living in destitution in makeshift structures they put up around the dam site.

Once completed, the dam will supply clean water to more than one million residents of Nakuru County and its environs. Right now, however, Itare residents have no toilets and no water, and the cold weather in the region that neighbours the Mau Forest complex has already started taking a toll on the children.

Cases of pneumonia and flu are rampant among the evictees, who are now asking the Jubilee government to address their plight.

Local leaders have kept away from the makeshift camps because they fear any intervention might be interpreted as opposing a Government project.

Ms Temuge is among the 846 residents who were profiled for livelihood compensation, which the Government placed at Sh6 million for loss of their daily earnings.

“I am one among the residents who were meant to be compensated but we are yet to be compensated. We don’t know what tomorrow holds for us and our children,” she told The Standard.

According to the displaced families, 250 people received between Sh5,000 and Sh20,000 as compensation for damage to their crops when the project began.

Seek refuge

“We were asked to leave the place on Thursday and go somewhere outside the site but we wonder what will follow. We lived here with our parents, who have since gone to seek refuge far from here,” Temuge said.

Wesley Bett, another displaced person, said although they supported the Vision 2030 flagship project, they never knew until now that it would render them homeless.

Mr Bett who we found putting up a structure to house his family, urged the national government to resettle them quickly.

“We are in a desperate situation… and we know that after we get out of here no one will bother with us anymore,” he said.

He showed The Standard a faded allotment letter from the District Commissioner’s office indicating that he had been given five hectares of land.

Government’s failure

Kuresoi South MP Zakayo Cheruiyot, in whose constituency the dam is being constructed, is unhappy with the Government’s failure to resettle the families.

The MP warned the Government against mistreating the villagers, who have willingly let the water be tapped and redistributed.

“The Government is at risk of triggering a time-bomb. These people are being oppressed and humiliated yet they have not objected to the construction,” said Mr Cheruiyot.

“Their relatives, who were evicted from Mau Forest and dumped in the arid Majani Mingi, are facing untold suffering.

“They have no basic amenities. They are not even the beneficiaries of this project being implemented in their backyard. Can the Government resettle these people? We cannot have IDPs year in, year out.”

But Rift Valley Water Service Board (RVWSB), the project implementer, said the affected families were compensated for loss of livelihood.

“The families who settled there were aware that the land belonged to the Government and was earmarked for that project. We went out of our way to compensate them for loss of livelihood because they had crops on the land,” said RVWSB chairman John Kitilit.

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