Water prices up seven-fold in drought-prone Makueni


Men sink a shallow well at the centre of what used to be Matinga Dam in Makueni on Monday. PHOTO | PIUS MAUNDU | NMG

The cost of water in Kathonzweni, Makueni, has risen seven-fold this month as vendors took advantage of low levels at the drought-stricken Matinga Dam which serves the town and its environs.

A spot check shows a 20-litre jerrican of water now retails at Sh30, up from the usual Sh4 when the dam is full. Water vendors get supplies from Kwa Mbila Dam, 20 kilometres away.

Residents on the outskirts of Kathonzweni have also resorted to digging up the shallow wells in the search for the commodity.

“The water from the shallow wells is unable to cook most foods since it is saline. Livestock detest it because it is smelly.

“This has put us in an awkward position considering the freshwater distributed by vendors is not affordable,” said Ms Phoebe at the dam site on Monday.

Traders are among those badly hit by the water crisis. Patrick Kisavi, who runs an eatery at the sub-county headquarters, decried the high cost of water, which eats into his profits. Calls for the county government to supply the commodity have landed in deaf ears.

The government constructed Matinga Dam in 1974 to address water shortage in the region. It dovetails into an aggressive rainwater harvesting programme that has seen the county government build dozens of dams and farm ponds as well as distribute thousands of water tanks to individuals and institutions.

In addition to supplying the market, a hospital and three boarding schools in the region with clean water, Matinga Dam is used to grow bananas, maize and vegetables throughout the year by many farmers in the neighbourhood.

It had become the main source of the fish in the region after the county government seeded it with 10,000 mudfish.

At the height of the drought, residents watched in disbelief as the dam, which has supported their livelihoods for more than 40 years dried up. This sounded a death knell on thousands of fish and source of water.

Traders are among residents pushing for the expansion of the dam by removing sediments ahead of the short rainy season.

“Kathonzweni is on the brink of snapping since its economy is hinged squarely on water from Matinga Dam,” said Mr Bernard Mule, the chairman of an association of the Kathonzweni business community.