The Impacts of Sondu-Miriu River Hydro-Electric Power Project on the People of Nyanza

Africa Water Network
Wednesday, December 22, 1999


Sondu Miriu River, one of the six major rivers in the Lake Victoria basin, drains a total area of 3470 kilometre2 in the Western part of Kenya. The river originates from the western slopes of the Mau Escarpment and flows through a narrow gorge, penetrating the Nyakach Escarpment. It then meanders into the Odino falls before entering the flood plains of Nyakwere where it drains into the Winam Gulf of Lake Victoria.

Sondu Miriu HEP Project is located about 400 kilometres from the capital city of Nairobi. It covers six sub locations with a population density of 500 people per square kilometre. The Kenya Generating Company, (KENGEN) plans to divert water from the Sondu–Miriu river into a regulating pond with a capacity of 1.1 million metre3. This water will then be led into the main power house via a 7.2 kilometre tunnel. The project is in its civil works stage involving construction of camp sites, roads, a bridge, communication implements and blasting of the tunnel which is still in the initial stages.


Africa Water Network has been appraising the project since August. The AWN mission in this project is to study the impact of the project on the people and to nurture and strengthen grassroot and human rights movement by building the capacity of the affected communities.

In our mission, the AWN has established that the project has violated environmental and the people's rights. What was outlined in the pre–feasibility and feasibility studies is not what is being implemented on the ground.

Our Objectives

The Project's objectives are:

(a) to conduct research on the socio–economic and environmental effects of the dam
(b) to initiate grassroots campaign around the environmental and socio–economics effects of the dam.

Emerging Problems and Issues

I) Environmental Effects

The environmental effects of the dam and diversion of the river have not been adequately addressed. The hydrological and ecological formation of the river will be greatly disturbed when it is eventually diverted. The generating company is clearly avoiding these issues by saying these are the responsibilities of relevant government ministries.

Wildlife, especially the colobus monkey and hippopotamus, dependent on the river water will be forced to seek water source at the lower populous Nyakwere plains disturbing their habitat. The aquatic system will be disrupted with far reaching repercussion, issues that are being avoided presently. The project implementers claim a trickle of water will be left to flow over the initial course. The project is not being truthful with information. Experience from the Turkwel Gorge and Masinga dams HEP where the river course was also diverted, shows the river course will dry up permanently or become a seasonal river.

The environment will be heavily polluted when blasting through the rocks begin. The geological structure of the whole area is composed of pre–cambrian rocks that will require stronger detonation for them to disintegrate. The water table might be affected making other existing ponds, springs and water sheds to dry up as a result of digging the tunnel. There is a lot of dust presently as civil works continue. Health precaution measures have not been put in place. Most members of the community are already suffering from eye and respiratory problems. They are forced to pay for expensive medical care or, for the very poor, live with the problem. A sanitary centre has been constructed to be used exclusively by the project employees. Nothing has been put up for the community.

II) Socio–Economic Effects

The community was promised electricity and irrigation facilities in the initial project documents to win their goodwill. However, the generating company says it will not provide the two components of the plan because it is not within its mandate.

The community is heavily dependent on the river water for both domestic and agricultural activities. Diverting the river will cause serious water deficit affecting over 1,500 households. We came upon no plans to provide alternative sources of water.

The project has so far displaced 1,000 households through involuntary resettlement. Loss of arable land coupled with inadequate compensation is adversely affecting the livelihood of these predominantly subsistent communities. Our findings reveal that negotiations for compensation were in favour of KENGEN. The community was only involved in the negotiations in the last minute after only two brief informational meetings by the generating company conducted in English, a language that is not understandable to the majority of the affected people. The community did not have opportunity to engage their own land valuer. The methodology of payment has not been explained to them so far and is a hidden secret from concerned members of the society.

The so –called "stakeholder consultations" were meant to endorse the project implementers rates. Our assessment shows that those who have been displaced were paid on a "willing buyer, willing seller" basis instead of being compensated for involuntary resettlement. Boat operators who ferry people across the river will completely lose their income when the river is first bridged and finally dammed. KENGEN has deliberately ignored their plight arguing that their area of operation is not covered by the project. They are, however, included in the compensation plan submitted to donors. Moreover, the affected communities have not benefited from employment opportunities that have arisen from the initial stages of the project due to rampant corruption.

III) Cultural Effects

The potential cultural effects of the project have not been addressed adequately. The diversion of the river occurs upstream of the breathtaking Odino falls. The community attaches a lot of cultural values and beliefs to the falls. According to the community, the falls is the harbinger of good and bad omen. It is the home of prosperity or death. So fearful is the community of the wrath of the falls that only a chosen few adults are allowed to venture deep into the forest and the belly of the precarious Odino hills to visit the falls. Every time the roaring falls are disturbed, according to the community, the gods of Odino react with thunder and lightning, consuming those it finds on its path. To keep the local community at ease, the project managers have assured them Odino falls will not be disturbed because there will be some "little" water let to flow over the falls. For years, some enlightened members of the community have been pushing for preservation of this site by the national museums. In this way, it will become a source of tourism from where they will benefit. Borrowing experience from other dam projects, the river will dry up completely because of the prevailing drought situation.

IV) Gender Issues

The community is dependent on women to fetch water from the river for domestic use. They will be adversely affected when the river is dammed and diverted. There are no plans by the project implementers to install alternative water sources. The project has also deliberately marginalised women on the premises that men are the heads of households. Consequently, 98 per cent of employment opportunities have been reserved for men. Women were not involved in consultations for the project neither did they play any role in various committees installed by the project.

Africa Water Network
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Fax: 254–2–555513
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