Government officials’ negligence and carelessness of farm managers as well as the pervading fear of the politically-connected Patel farm owners are to blame for the 47 deaths that occurred in Solai, Nakuru in May, a human rights report has revealed.
After three weeks of research, Kenya Human Rights Commission, Freedom of Information Network and Mid Rift Human Rights network released a fact-finding report on the Patel Dam tragedy on June 29.
The report titled, Damned Dams: Exposing Corporate and State Impunity in the Solai Tragedy, blames government agencies tasked with managing water resources and the environment and farm’s management for the tragedy that killed innocent residents.
The report revealed the residents have been complaining about the farm since 1980s when they protested over the blocking of two rivers and streams by the farm owners but action was only taken after the May disaster in bid to cover up the mess.
Following the bursting of the dam in May, 47 people died, 41 were injured while 223 households lost their homes and almost 5,000 people were displaced.
The Nyakinyua Farm, which bore the heaviest brunt in the disaster was formerly owned Mr Patel Shantilal Nathalal, before he sold it to the locals.
KOIGI WA WAMWERE
“In the 1980s, Mr. Patel sold part of his land (Ottoman Estate) to the locals. This settled over 600 households on what would later be known as the Nyakinyua settlement. Leadership wrangles delayed issuance of title deeds and now occupants only have share certificates,” says the report.
The report cites former Subukia MP Koigi wa Wamwere as having raised the issue of the farm blocking rivers and streams almost four decades ago in Parliament when he said the action led to droughts but action was never taken.
“In 1980, Mr Wamwere raised the issue of water diversion from surrounding rivers by Patel coffee estates which was causing water shortages experienced by farmers in Mangu, Bomet, Nyandarua and Ndabibi areas. The then assistant minister for water and development, in response, confirmed the ministry was aware that during drought, the said villages suffered acute water shortages. He, however, denied knowing the company had blocked flow of water in the area for purposes of irrigating coffee, but assured his ministry would investigate the complaint. It is questionable whether any action was ever taken thereafter,” the report says.
This is despite locals lodging many complaints that they could see cracks on some of the dams and water leakage later on.
“In 2012 the biggest dam in the farm broke its walls releasing millions of litres of water. By luck, there was a smaller dam on its path where fish were being. It helped reduce the speed of the water averting a disaster by holding much of the it. That would have been the worst,” a resident told the Nation.
She said, on that day, the locals were treated to free white meat as thousands of fish were swept downstream to the villages to the amazement of the locals.
“Our findings established that the construction of dams during the colonial and post-colonial period was done haphazardly at best. Most of the dams, including those in Solai, were built without community participation and little consideration was given to the needs of the surrounding communities who rely on agriculture as a means of livelihood. Little attention was given to social and environmental protocols when building the dams and priority was given to immediate and egocentric needs for the political elites over those of future generations and ecosystems,” the report says.
The report describes Patel Farm as the biggest supplier of milk to one of Kenya’s dairy companies. It also farms coffee, macadamia and flowers.
This, the report says has given the Solai Group of Companies political and economic immunity.
According to the report, the eight dams in Patel Farm have blocked a river and three smaller streams.
“River Kabaazi which flows into lake Baringo is blocked by Tindress Dam, Ottoman dam has blocked a stream that would flow downstream into the Nyakinyua settlement farm while Milmet dam has blocked a stream that would flow downstream into the Endao settlement farm,” the report says.
The human rights groups say state agencies responsible for protecting Kenyans committed “major violations and atrocities” by ignoring early warning signs and allowing operation of illegal dams.
The farm management has also been blamed for the “illegal diversion of the flow of natural water sources.”