Kenya's Kamburu dams fuel malaria risk for villagers

KAMBURU DAM, KENYA: Alfred Nyaga irrigates his acre of khat, a mild stimulant, in Kaloki village by pumping water with a diesel-powered engine directly from Kamburu Dam in central Kenya.

Each morning, he takes the khat he has harvested at night to sell at Kiritiri market, some 30 km (18.64 miles) from the village perched on a shrub-covered slope above the hydropower dam.

Being so close to the reservoir means Nyaga and his four workers are often bitten by mosquitoes as they toil.

"We have no other option because we have to work on our farms and we need the dam water," said Nyaga.

The dam provides an ideal breeding environment for the Anopheles mosquito, which carries the malaria parasite, putting local farmers and their families at risk of infection.

Bed nets to keep off the insects while sleeping are a must in the mud and tin-roofed houses that dot the landscape.

Kenya's hydropower dams benefit communities living on their banks by providing a plentiful source of water to irrigate crops.

But the large reservoirs that feed them are also a habitat for mosquitoes, which thrive especially well in the shallow puddles that often form along their shorelines.

African governments and the World Bank argue the continent needs hydropower dams to boost inadequate electricity supplies with a clean, renewable source of energy. Sub-Saharan Africa already has over 2,000 dams.

But a study published last September in Malaria Journal warned that over 1 million people in sub-Saharan Africa would contract malaria in 2015 because they lived near a large dam.

The researchers, including experts from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), found that construction of an expected 78 major new dams in the region over the next few years would lead to an additional 56,000 malaria cases annually.

Malaria impacts must be tackled so they do not undermine the sustainability of Africa's drive for development, the study warned.

It recommended distributing bed nets to people living within 5 km of dams. It also proposed operating schedules that dry out reservoir shoreline areas where mosquitoes breed at critical times, and introducing fish that eat mosquito larvae.