The Aberdare Range is one of five water towers which are the single largest such sources for direct human consumption and industrial activities. It is situated in central Kenya on the Equator, stretching over 125km from Nyahururu in the north to Limuru in the south. At Limuru, subterranean tributaries converge to form Manguo Swamp which in turn feeds Ondiri and Rungiri wetlands further south in Kikuyu. Tributaries from both wetlands meet to form what becomes Nairobi River after Kikuyu Springs which was the first source of water supply to Nairobi Municipality in 1906.
Last week I was invited to a tree planting activity at Rungiri Dam which was created inadvertently in 1992 during the construction of the Uthiru-Rironi Road and was the product of an era when Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was not a prerequisite for development activities with a potential for environmental transformation in Kenya. The road project was funded by the European Union and the main contractor was Fortunato-Federici/Impresit of Italy.
Not realising that the gravel excavation site known as Rungiri Quarry was sitting on a water aquifer, the contractor excavated beyond the approved contract depth thereby interfering with the underground water movement resulting in the creation of a water body which came to be known as Rungiri Dam.
I am told that the location of the dam is where local residents used to fetch water from a spring called “Githima kia Njiiru” (Njiiru Springs). The Kenya-Uganda railway line can be seen running on top of the eastern face while Kia Njiiru stream runs along the western boundary. A stone perimeter wall was built on the south-western boundary in 1994 by the local MP at the time, Paul Muite. Human settlements are evident on the upper northern side, while farming under irrigation is concentrated to the southern reaches. The water in the dam is a greenish colour, and is only suitable for irrigation and washing clothes.
Since its accidental creation in 1992, Rungiri Dam has been the bane of the local community. It is claimed that more than 200 bodies have been retrieved from the dam, victims of accidental drowning, suicide, and people murdered elsewhere and their bodied dumped here. Many cases of drug peddling and rape have been reported here over the years and it is claimed that criminals used the bush around the dam as a staging post for their nefarious activities.
During the run up to the 2017 elections, a rather creative politician stage-managed his abduction and his car and personal effects were conveniently found on the fringes of Rungiri Dam.
Various appeals by community members to the authorities to secure the dam have not been successful for close to 30 years. Last year, residents resolved to take matters into their own hands. Led by their chairman, retired zoologist Gakure Kamure and young activist Njiiru, the youth started to clear the surrounding bush to secure the area and flushed out the drug dealers, rapists, and muggers. They also planted trees along the perimeter of the dam to make it attractive and to provide shade for visitors.
Following the incidence of Covid-19 this year, more youths have volunteered to patrol the dam and they have erected outdoor shelters where visitors can sit and enjoy refreshments. Other youths are offering snacks and drinks for sale to visitors.
Signs have been put up in prominent locations warning visitors of the danger of drowning and a trained lifeguard is on duty during the day. Drug dealers have been put on notice to stay away from the precincts of the dam and plainclothes policemen patrol the area randomly.
I am told that since March this year, there have been no reports of drowning or bodies being dumped into the dam, as a result of these initiatives by the youth.
Rungiri is no stranger to controversy and the “ndongoria iguthua” (limping sheep) controversy at PCEA Rungiri Church in 1982 readily comes to mind. However, the community is determined to change the narrative by creating a positive perception of Rungiri Dam.
According to Njiiru, his vision is to turn Rungiri Dam into a world-class waterfront recreational facility attracting not only local tourists, but also foreign tourists headed to the iconic Maasai Mara game reserve. He hopes to secure funding to upscale the current efforts to promote fishing, aqua sports, boating, nature walks, bird watching, photo shoots and a floating restaurant. The dam has one canoe provided by the fisheries department which has also introduced tilapia fish into the dam. There is a family of Egyptian geese and various other bird species which are resident here.
The dam, which is centrally situated in this village, has the potential to impact positively on the livelihoods of the residents.
It is gratifying to see the youth are taking the initiative to change the perception of Rungiri Dam into one of hope and progress rather than waiting indefinitely expecting someone else to take responsibility.
During the tree planting ceremony 500 seedlings were planted and the area chief and MCA were in attendance. The seedlings were donated by Hearts of Green Foundation.
Whilst commending the youth of Rungiri for this very noble project, I hasten to add that we are not short of good ideas in Kenya. The problem is in the implementation and sustainability of those ideas. That is where we, all too often, fall foul of the plot. I wish them the very best.