The Slow Death of Dawani River

Dawani River
 That Dawani, or aptly put, Wanyororo River, is on a death knell is not in contention. Once upon a time, Dawani River was a mighty one. It meandered through villages filling three dams as its serpentine course took it all the way to Murunyu village and beyond from Wanyororo hills.

  Today, this narrative is different. The far the river reaches (as of present) is Wanyororo dam behind the Catholic Church. Residents down the river claim that only when the rains are unrelenting, or at their peak, does the river flow the full course. To them, the river died a natural death not long ago, for what today passes for a river is a dry river bed that turns into a seasonal flow depending on rain patterns.

  A close look at the three dams along the river’s course returns a grim picture. The dams are a pale shadow of their former glory; shallow and heavily silted that one can wade through, literally, and overrun with aquatic weeds. Are they really dams or mere giant ponds that even a low earth satellite cannot pick?

  Claims have it some individuals have diverted the river’s course to pass through their farms for irrigation purposes, or even made illegal dams checking its downward progress.

  But how did the river’s slow and gradual death begin?

  At the height of Moi’s regime, especially during the mid 1990s, anyone with a power saw, or whoever could bribe the authorities of the day, was a licensed logger. The great carpet of forest that protected the river’s source disappeared as trees fell in quick succession. By the time the last of power saws went silent, the hills had been laid bare, exposing the water catchment. To make an already dire situation worse, many peasants were allocated minuscule pieces of land to till, on what was seen as one of ways of addressing or boosting food security in an otherwise food secure zone.

Riverside dam
  The effects of these misguided decisions were not long in coming. Surface runoff waters leached fertilizer rich soils into the river whenever it rained. As these nutrients-rich soils silted along the river’s course and into the dams, plants of every shade took hold, and overrun water surface overnight. Dams became a mass of weeds, and their holding capacities reduced. It is no surprise that during dry seasons, the rate of evaporation is high, meaning it takes little time for whatever amount of water is left to empty out (mainly through fetching for domestic and other uses).

  Enter the Kibaki regime, and a company by name of Comply was contracted to reforest the whole denuded place. One would have expected a forest cover in a decade, taking into account the claims the trees planted were of a fast maturing variety. That is far from reality, with tree cover relatively low, and some parts of forest land still serving as shambas for some peasants.

  Conventional wisdom would have it that with the forest in place, the swampy water catchment areas would have been restored to their glorious past. That is not the case!

  Witness the present state of the river. It is nothing short of a seasonal trickle. Whereas in the past this river used to flow all year round, nowadays rain patterns dictate its flow chart. A worrying trend, however, has set in place. Whenever it rains, surface runoff flows on our roads for weeks on end, and with a higher cubic volume than what the river carries!

Surface runoff
  No one, it seems, has seen the wisdom of harnessing this runaway water by channeling it into the river. When we have inept leaders in place, what can one expect? (A case in point, the Wanyororo Farmers Co. Ltd is a real letdown. It has failed in its mandate, like in protecting or fighting for our resources. When did this group of sellouts hold an annual general meeting last? Has there been a change of its directors in decades?)
Catholic dam

  When you realize that even piped water is a luxury, and not a necessity in many places, you will begin to realize the enormity of the situation. A looming water crisis is not far off, unless measures are taken to redress the situation.

  And it will come as no surprise when someone will form a briefcase NGO, and cash on handsomely, in name of mobilizing for finances to protect this water catchment area.

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