Tuesday, May 28, 2024

KISUMU: Dark tales of the deadly quarries of Kanyakwar

At the slopes of Kanyakwar hills, along Kisumu-Kakamega Road, the beautiful canopies of indigenous trees cover the ground.

Beneath are open quarries that tell a different story.

Mama Agnes Anyango has been living here for the past two decades.

She has lost two kids in the open quarries, and her fears are loud in her face.

“I first lost my son in the quarry in 2017. It was devastating. To add salt to the wound, another one died at the same point,” says Ms Onyango.

According to Ms Onyango, her 12-year-old son, Moses Okun had joined his friends to swim at the open quarry when she sent him to a nearby shop.

“I never knew I was sending Moses to the jaws of his death,” she stated.

She added; “My son stayed dead in the water for three days when his body was discovered floating at one corner of the pond.”

I first lost my son in the quarry in 2017. It was devastating. To add salt to the wound, another one died at the same point

Mama Agnes Onyango

Another death

In September 2022, Ms Onyango suffered another devastating blow. This time, her 9-year-old son, Joseph Ochieng, set off to the quarry to collect water.

Unbeknownst to him, this seemingly routine task would mark his final moments.

While reaching for a fallen jerrican inside the quarry, Joseph lost his footing and tragically drowned in the murky depths.

A passerby discovered his lifeless body floating on the water’s surface.

And with the sad memories lingering in her mind, Ms Onyango suggests fencing the quarries or devising a system to divert the excess water, preventing its accumulation and minimizing the risk of accidents.

Mama Agnes Onyango at the grave of one of her sons who died at the Kanyakwar quarry

Illegal quarries

For over five decades, illegal quarrying activities have plagued this once-serene land, leading to the loss of countless innocent lives.

Operating against government regulations, the Kanyakwar clan has exploited the land’s resources, selling them to various construction companies worldwide, including notable names like China and Indian constructors.

The insatiable greed of a few has created a perilous situation, turning these quarries into death traps, particularly during the rainy season.

It all began in 1971 when the Kanyakwar clan, emboldened by their return, sought to reclaim the land that had been declared a no man’s land and acquired by the national government.

Their forceful occupation and subsequent illegal excavation activities would set in motion a tragic series of events that continue to haunt the community to this day.

At the heart of the issue lies the illegal extraction of rocks, red soil, and murram from the quarries.

These valuable resources, meant to benefit the nation at large, have instead become instruments of personal gain for the Kanyakwar clan.

In their pursuit of wealth, they have disregarded the safety and well-being of the local population, which predominantly comprises innocent children.

The flooded quarries, a direct consequence of the rainy season, have become the silent executioners of this ongoing tragedy.

Over 50 lives lost

Over the years, the treacherous waters have claimed the lives of more than 50 individuals, most of whom were children.

The first recorded incident occurred in 1980 when a child, innocently playing near the quarry’s edge, tragically drowned.

Since then, this macabre cycle of loss has persisted, with the most recent victim being a two-year-old boy in May 2023.

The devastating effects of these accidents ripple throughout the community, leaving grieving families and a lingering sense of fear and sorrow.

The sight of these flooded quarries serves as a haunting reminder of the precariousness of life and the unresolved issue of illegal excavation.

Local authorities and concerned citizens have made repeated pleas for the national government’s intervention to address this menace.

We have given an order that legal actions will be taken against those found washing, bathing, and fetching water in the quarries

Sammy Okoth, Village Elder

However, bureaucratic red tape and limited resources have hindered progress in curbing the illegal activities and securing the quarries.

The Kanyakwar clan’s powerful connections have only exacerbated the situation, making it even more challenging to achieve justice for the lives lost and prevent further tragedies.

As the community mourns yet another young life lost, it becomes evident that urgent action is needed.

Awareness campaigns, stricter enforcement of laws, and community engagement are essential steps in combating this menace.

Through a collective effort, we must amplify the voices of innocent victims and demand justice and accountability from those responsible for these crimes against humanity.

The story of Kanyakwar stands as a stark reminder of the consequences when personal gain overrides societal welfare.

It is a testament to the urgent need for stricter regulations, robust law enforcement, and a society united against the exploitation of our shared resources.

Unless immediate action is taken, the flooded quarries of Kanyakwar will continue to claim innocent lives, forever staining the conscience of a nation and perpetuating the legacy of this tragic tale.

Omondi died saving drowning kids

Just like Ms Onyango, Mary Atieno, another resident of the area habours dark memories of the quarries.

Her grandson, Nicholas Omondi, a bodaboda rider, lost his life at the quarry while trying to save two children who were drowning in 2017.

On the fateful day, on his way to work, he noticed a gathering of people near a flooded quarry.

Driven by his innate compassion, he approached the crowd to investigate the commotion. To his horror, he discovered that two children had accidentally fallen into the treacherous waters and were in desperate need of rescue.

“He had a good heart and was always known by everyone as a helpful person,” said Ms Atieno.

She urges the government to invest in comprehensive safety protocols, including clear signage, secure fencing, and increased supervision near quarries to prevent similar tragedies from occurring.

Photo of Nicholas Omondi who died at the quarry

In a bid to address the alarming number of accidents and fatalities associated with quarries, local authorities and other government agencies have joined forces to enforce stringent regulations aimed at preventing further loss of life.

The collaborative efforts seek to safeguard the well-being of residents living near the quarries by imposing strict measures and legal consequences for those found engaging in hazardous activities.

“We have joined hands with relevant government agencies to ensure that no more lives are lost,” said Sammy Okoth the area village elder.

“We have given an order that legal actions will be taken against those found washing, bathing, and fetching water in the quarries,” he continued.

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