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Setback in effort to supply Wajir with safe drinking water

The risk of saltwater intrusion into the aquifer's freshwater supplies has caused uneasiness. Photo/XINHUA

The risk of saltwater intrusion into the aquifer’s freshwater supplies has caused uneasiness. Photo/XINHUA

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 27 – In 2010 the Merti aquifer in Habaswein held great promise for Wajir Town according to the County Executive in charge of water Yussuf Gedi.

“Wajir Town has no formal water supply; people rely on shallow wells which are said to be contaminated so the then Ministry of Development of Northern Kenya initiated this project to supply water to Wajir from the Habaswein Merti aquifer,” he explained.

Four years and a number of studies later however, the promise the aquifer held for providing safe drinking water to Wajir Town is beset with challenges.

The first being resistance from a section of Habaswein residents to the proposed pumping of what they deem to be their water, the 110 kilometres to Wajir Town.

“When we went there to carry out a study on the social impact of the proposed project only one person agreed to speak to us on condition of anonymity. The members of the Jiko la Akina mama women group is so aggressive they can beat you,” Sarah Ogalleh, a Senior Scientist with the Centre for Training and Integrated Research in ASAL Development (CETRAD), testified.

A scenario that played out when Nelson Miricho, an engineer with H.P. Gauff, and his team were carrying out their studies in Habaswein.

“We were actually kicked out and there are aspects of our research that we were unable to complete because of it. Their fear is that by pumping water to Wajir, the aquifer will be depleted,” he said.

And in addition to the risk of drawdown come 2050, the risk of saltwater intrusion into the aquifer’s freshwater supplies has caused uneasiness.

“There are a number of boreholes in Wajir that are saline and knowing how deep the saltwater table is will allow us to better handle the risk of upconing,” Jan de Leeuw of Arjan Oord Acacia Water said.

Given the project is estimated to cost Sh4.5 billion if implemented, Gedi says their county government will not even consider investing its money until there can be some level of certainty that salinity will not be an immediate threat to the 14 boreholes planned for drilling.

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“We are told that at least below 200 metres there’s possibility of saline water which might intrude into the boreholes if we over pump. That’s one of the biggest challenges to getting the project off the ground,” he said.

It’s this greater knowledge which, Dr Boniface Kiteme -the Director of CETRAD – believes will restore faith in the Merti aquifer’s potential to provide the residents of Wajir with safe drinking water.

“What the stakeholders must ask themselves is are they supporting or opposed to the project from a position of knowledge or ignorance?” he proposed.

Reduced infant mortality (the value of a life being pegged at between Sh17,589 and Sh8.8 million) being one of the benefits Eike Luedeling of the World Agroforestry Centre identified should the project succeed.


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