EDITORIAL: Firm action must be taken to ensure safety of dams

Tiaty, Baringo County
A resident in Tiaty, Baringo County points to an emptied dam on May 22, 2018. File PHOTO | NMG   

Kenya is yet to recover from the recent Solai dam burst that took the lives of 47 people. But as a matter of fact, the country must stay alert that more such disasters could happen again given the presence of thousands of such facilities countrywide.

There is discomfort in the fact that even where professionals have been involved in building the dams, cutting of corners has helped in setting the stage for disasters.

Water and Sanitation principal secretary Joseph Irungu on Tuesday laid bare the extent of the negligence that bears the potential to cause more harm.

According to the PS, only 843 out of 4,140 dams are regulated by the Water Resources Management Authority (Warma). The thousands of water pans dotting Kenya’s countryside are not regulated, the PS said, and it is only now that the ministry is updating its data in an attempt at some regulation.

After the Nakuru disaster, few will take the issue of unregulated dams lightly. Although most of the basic dams are concentrated in sparsely populated areas, sprawling urban areas are increasingly seeing dams constructed to cater for rising population.

What this means is that the Solai dam tragedy could be repeated on a grander scale in heavily built-up areas.

Thus, the ministry, its agencies and the county governments need to move quickly and take full stock of all the dams and satisfy themselves that they pose no danger to populations.

This is even more urgent after the recent heavy rains that could have tested the strength of the structures.

Such an audit is very important not only because lives are at stake but also because the public and private sectors face hefty penalties in case of a tragedy.

In Brazil, for instance, mining firm BHP was slapped with a $235 million fine for a Solai-style disaster. Ironically, the disaster killed 19 people.

In view of the potential liability and losses, it is only fair that all the watchdogs, including National Environmental Management Authority be put on notice of severe repercussions in case of negligence.

More importantly, it should be a race against time in fully auditing the reservoirs including those of KenGen and Tarda.