New dam causing ripples in northern Kenya

Hydro-electricity-dam18 September 2014, Nairobi – Wario Galelo, 64, raises livestock downstream from the site of a hydroelectric dam which the Kenyan government plans to construct on the Ewaso Ngiro river in the north of the country.

Like many other local residents, he is furious about the dam, which will be located in Oldonyiro in Isiolo County and cost around ten billion Kenyan shillings (125 million US dollars).

“It makes me very angry when I think of this dam that is only going to benefit a few individuals fronting the project,” Wario told IWPR. “But what about us… what about our children… our wives and animals? We are told the dam will generate electricity… what about our livestock? They don’t eat or drink electricity.”

Although the hydroelectric scheme will provide water and power to residents of a new city planned in Isiolo County, pastoralist communities in the area worry it will jeopardise their already precarious livelihoods by disrupting water flows on the river.

The Ewaso Ngiro river is a lifeline for the more than three million people who keep livestock along its banks.

People in Isiolo and in the neighbouring Samburu and Laikipia counties have already seen the river’s level drop because of drought and major irrigation projects. The waters are also polluted by industrial waste dumped upstream.

Wario says he lost more than 400 goats and nearly 100 cows and camels to drought last year, and fears that the dam would threaten his remaining stock of just 30 goats and one cow.

He says he will would “fight to the end” to oppose construction of the dam.

“The government is concerned about the dam and other development projects more than the welfare of our people,” the father-of-four added. “We are ready to die to defend this river for the sake of our children.”


In its feasibility study for the project, published in November 2013, NWCPC said the dam would channel water to about 90,000 people by 2016. A further 180,000 would benefit directly from the dam by 2036, and even more would be able to access water pumped from the river. The whole project falls under Kenya’s Vision 2030 development framework.

Livestock-herders say broader public consultation needs to take place.

Jothan Dida, a pastoralist from Isiolo, told IWPR that the government must clarify how people would access water from the dam while still benefiting from pastures and fishing along the river.

“We can agree and allow the project to continue if the proponents of this project engage our communities more and tell us plainly the practical steps and measures they have in place on how we would get water and other resources from the dam, and what long-term plans they have to mitigate its effects,” Jothan told IWPR.

Living downstream from the proposed dam site, like most pastoralists in the area, Jothan had 500 goats before prolonged drought set in. He now has just 150 goats, and all the cattle he owned are now dead.

Persistent droughts, punctuated by flash-flooding, often force pastoralist herders to move south towards the upper reaches of the Ewaso Ngiro in search of water and grassland.


– Institute of War and Peace Reporting

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