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The dirty clean up of Nairobi river

NAIROBI, July 17 – At least 120,000 people living in informal settlements within the major slums of Nairobi have already been identified for relocation, to pave way for a clean-up of the Nairobi River and its tributaries, Mathare and Ngong rivers.

This is a move that the local communities are vehemently opposed to.

“Let the clean up exercise continue, but relocating us will be wrong,” says Fredrick who lives in a shanty along the river bank in Mathare slums.

“It would be very good if they cleaned up the river but they should first control the sewage that runs in the river. The story of them moving us is not good. This is the only home I know, it is my village,” adds Joseph.

“If they relocate our businesses, customers will not follow us and it will be difficult to start afresh,” states Mwende who operates a candy shop just a few metres from the river in Kibera.

“This place is full of jobless youths and if they could bring them together to clean up the river, it would benefit them as well,” suggests Patrick Omondi, another local.

According to the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), they have identified over 4,000 structures within 30 metres of the riparian reserve to be demolished.

“We are talking about 4,236 structures both settlements and some businesses that may be affected in areas like Kibera, Mukuru slums, Mathare,Kiambiu, Mukuru kwa Njenga and others,” NEMA boss Dr Muusya Mwinzi stated.

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Plans are also in place to transform this zone into an economic area once the shanties are cleared.

“In many cities across the world, buildings that are within the riparian reserves are high property facilities.  So we want to clean up the mess and hopefully create a better system where we can come up with regulated facilities,” explains Environment Permanent Secretary (PS), Professor James Ole Kiyiapi.

“We will come up with prototype kiosks, coffee shops and other kinds of businesses and will be focusing on low income groups- those people who are already using the area.” 

The clean up programme titled Nairobi River rehabilitation and restoration programme- what seems to be a revival of the Nairobi Basin Programme that began in 1999 is expected to cost the Kenyan government a whooping Sh16 billion to implement over a period of three years.

“It may sound to be a lot of money but it is not if you think of the work we are going to do in terms of cleaning up over a total distance of 60 kilometres and relocating the people,” explains the PS.

NEMA has also identified over 200 illegal effluence discharge points into the three rivers especially by industries to which it has issued notices to stop or face the law.

“Anybody thinking we are joking is in for a rude shock because we now want to get into action. We are definitely going to allow the law to take its course since we have given them enough time,” Dr Mwinzi warned.

Slaughter houses in Dagoretti, a source of one of the tributaries, have also been issued with notices.

“Let them not say they were not aware because we carried out a lot of awareness in industries and their associations from September 2006 up to April 2007, the grace period allowed by law,” Mwinzi informed.

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All these activities are taking place to try and clean up a mess that could probably have been avoided- a mess that has been occurring over the last three decades, with no one seriously raising a finger.

“You will notice that the city of Nairobi is inhabited by two generations, those who lived in it when it was called the green city in the sun, and those who were born into a messy city,” states Kelvin Khisa, Deputy Director Kenya National Cleaner Production Centre, an institution established by UN development programme.

Khisa blames the mess on a previous lack of set laws to regulate waste disposal.

“There were no set laws so the end result is that we were releasing untreated stuff into the water,” he states.

“At the same time we did not have the standards for waste management and water quality regulations, so businesses were not compelled in any way to meet some criteria in terms of ensuring a clean and safe environment.”

On the other hand, the PS blames it on population growth.

“There are many reasons why we got to where we are the main one being the increase in population due to rural- urban migration since the 1970’s,” explains Ole Kiyiapi.

“It’s just like asking how Kibera (the largest slum in East and Central Africa) came about. So it’s something that nobody even knows exactly when it happened,” he says.

He further explains that due to the fact that most of the people living in the slums especially next to the river reserve have no lavatories and proper sewerage system, the waste is directed into the river.

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Previous attempts to clean up the river have suffered from lack of political will but Ole Kiyiapi is certain that this will not be just another project.

“The reason why it failed in the past is because people went and cleared just a small stretch. It was more of publicity rather than clearing the river,” he says adding that to ensure the rivers remains clean they will come up with a management framework of who will manage what.

Khisa adds: “The projects that have been there were basically reactive, you find that the river is contaminated with plastic waste and you rush to remove it. No, that is not the sustainable way, the solution lies on the root causes which would mean investing aggressively in massive awareness raising sessions.”     

Khisa says full involvement of the communities living within the riparian reserve as well as private- public partnership will ensure the success of the project.

“This must be given a chance to work because we have borrowed this earth from the future generations so we should return it with dividends.”

“When we clean up Nairobi River, we should have fish there so that if the population dwindles we know there is pollution taking place,” Khisa suggests.


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