Kenya: Community and government at loggerheads over proposed Nandi Forest dam

Plans by the government to build a large multipurpose dam deep inside the South Nandi Forest Reserve have kicked up a storm among local communities and conservationists. The roller-compacted concrete (RCC) Nandi Multipurpose Dam is to be located at the confluence of rivers Kimonde and Sirua and threatens to destroy some 10 million indigenous trees.

This potentially catastrophic project is being fronted and funded by the Government of Kenya through the Ministry of Regional Development. It will be 1.5km long and 66.4m high creating a 230hm3 (230,000,000 cubic metres) reservoir that will drown some 1,185 ha of hitherto pristine natural forest, thus destroying 8.8% of the total closed canopy forest in South Nandi Forest Reserve.

The South Nandi community and their leaders are opposed to this project and are preparing to go to court and stop the government, mostly because they feel that the benefits of the dam are not attractive enough (as the area already has electricity, good rainfall and adequate water). Conservationists on the other hand are cautioning the government against the adverse environmental impacts the dam will have on the forest and dependent ecosystems. Apart from destroying 10 million trees, this dam project will significantly drain the Yala Swamp – a wetland of international importance – by diverting 9% of River Yala’s waters to the adjacent Nyando River, alter local microclimate, adversely affect farming, and lead to biodiversity loss and habitat degradation.

Plans to build a dam in the South Nandi Forest – an indigenous gazetted forest located in western Kenya within Nandi South and Nandi Central Districts, Rift Valley Province of Kenya – were hatched after studies within the last two decades indicated that there was a water surplus in the Lake Victoria Basin area. The studies recommended that a dam be build in Nandi Forest area to divert water to the Nyanza sugar belt.

The Kenya Forest Working Group organised a fact finding mission to the project area between 3rd and 5th March 2011 and discovered that plans to construct the proposed dam are at an advanced stage. Cabinet approval has already been secured and several studies (EIA, feasibility study, Environmental Management plan, Catchment Conservation Management Plan) have been undertaken. Stakeholder feedback sessions have been held, both in Nairobi and in Nandi Hills to make public disclosure of the feasibility and EIA studies. The mission also unearthed some major oversights in the plans.

  • The on-going preparatory phase lacks adequate stakeholder participation. Key stakeholders such as Kenya Forests Service (KFS) and Nandi County Council feel they have not been fully consulted and involved particular in vetting the studies. The KFS Zonal manager recently barred a team of consultants from undertaking studies within the forest without clearance from KFS director.
  • An EIA has been prepared but it is not clear whether or not it has been submitted to NEMA.
  • Local communities within Nandi are strongly opposed to the project possibly because they feel the proposed benefits are not attractive enough and that they will bear the cost of the dam as downstream communities reap the benefits. Due to this, the Nandi county council will challenge the proposed project in court. To win local community approval of the project, the government has sought the support of the local MP Hon. Sally Kosgei, who in a leaders meeting held on 5th March 2011 in South Nandi area urged them to support it.
  • Several stakeholder teams have toured the site including KFS Board members, who, denounced the project in the media, and vowed to object to it.
  • The dam will be sited right inside the forest at the confluence of river Kimondi and Sirua. A closed canopy forest patch measuring 1,185ha will be cleared, bringing down 10million trees.
  • Findings of a preliminary biomass carbon storage assessment of the forest by Nature Kenya show that the indigenous forest area store substantial amounts of carbon per hectare (220±62 tons/ha). With increased deforestation and degradation, the area is ideal for reforestation and forest protection projects with the potential to attract carbon market funding. A well implemented forest protection and reforestation project could also provide numerous other benefits in addition to carbon sequestration, including tourism, preserving biodiversity, natural water filtration and purification, and other ecosystem services.
  • Inadequate studies have been done to quantify the economic value of the biodiversity and ecosystem services that shall be lost as a result of dam construction. The forest hosts diverse fauna and flora, some of which are endemic. The forest has a rich highland bird community characteristic of the central Kenya highlands but with some western affinities. A number of bird species of Global conservation concern were recorded e.g. the Turners Eremomela as well as regional endemics such as Hartlaubs Turaco and the range restricted Hunter’s Cisticola. South Nandi Forest is recognised as an Important Bird Area (IBA). The forest holds rich examples of an East African montane avifauna. Most of the species recorded here are similar to those found in Kakamega forest.
  • A study of the soil structure is on-going. The team visited Ndurio area and witnessed the drilling process aimed at facilitating soil sampling to guide the construction of a 17 km long hydraulic tunnel.
  • Plans to divert 9% of water from Yala River to Nyando through an underground tunnel will negatively affect Yala swamp, a key wetland of international importance.
  • At the moment, no external financier has been drafted and the government is paying for the preparatory phase.
  • Lack of broad stakeholder involvement and cross-sectoral planning was evident since the proposed dam construction is not mentioned in the ten-year integrated management plan of the forest launched on 8th Feb 2011 by the KFS director. Further, right at the site of the proposed weir, sits facilities of the recently launched Nzoia Cluster 2 water project that will be pulled down.

Following these discoveries, KFWG has come up with six recommendations:

  • Implementation of the dam should be driven by participatory process backed by science.
  • An alternative site outside the forest area should be considered.
  • Stakeholder’s especially local community should be sensitized on potential negative impacts of the proposed dam using simplified fact sheets.
  • Relevant documents related to the dam should be gathered and analyzed in readiness for preparation and submission of an objection, once National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) publishes a public notice.
  • Civic and political leaders should be taken through the relevant environmental legislations especially Forest Act 2005.
  • An indicative cost-benefit analysis of the proposed dam should be done

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