Patel Dam disaster exposes lacuna in the law

Thursday May 10 2018

This photo taken in Solai, Nakuru County, on May 10, 2018 shows the remaining water in Patel Dam, which burst and killed more than 40 people. The DPP has ordered investigations into the tragedy. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


The Patel Dam tragedy in Solai, Nakuru County, has exposed a gap in the law, which stipulates that the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) inspect dams only after those building them have applied for a licence.

This brings to the fore the difficulty in monitoring and regulating dam projects.

On Thursday, the Water Resources Management Authority, another government body, said the ill-fated dam was one of seven on the Patel farms that they have not legalised despite several visits by the agency’s officials.


Worse still, Nema started issuing environmental impact assessment certificates only after June 2003, when the parent law came into force, raising questions about the standards of dams built before then.

“Nema does inspection only by invitation,” the authority’s communications officer, Mr Evans Nyabuto, said.


“That is why, as an agency, we are now asking ourselves: How do we come to you and ensure that you are complying even when you have not applied for a licence, or after it has been approved?”


As Kenyans came to terms with the tragedy that has claimed at least 44 lives and displaced 2,500 people — with the number feared to increase — experts say many related factors could have contributed to the incident, especially the weakening of the dam’s walls, reducing their capacity to hold the additional water that came with the heavy rains.

During its construction in 1980, the dam was allowed “2,500 gallons (9,465lt) of water per day for domestic use and 40,000 gallons (151,416 lt) per day for irrigation, puffing and washing”, according to the Hansard.

But government officials said it had 80 million litres of water, 72 million of which poured out to the neighbouring villages, killing tens and destroying property.