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Kenya: Urbanization a Threat to the Environment

The city encroaches on Nairobi River

Water bodies are under a threat in Kenya as most urban centers in Kenya are located near water bodies, Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has said. Due to this “inadequate or lack of effluent treatment facilities, poses serious environmental concern on rivers, lakes or ocean pollution.”

NEMA cites examples of Nairobi River and Lake Victoria. However, the authority says that the current infrastructure in most urban centers is inadequate to treat the amount of industrial and municipal waste likely to be generated from increased urbanization.

“The Nairobi Rivers suffer the brunt of this inadequacy with most of the untreated effluent finding its way into it,” NEMA’s Acting Director General Dr Ayub Macharia says.

Dr Macharia explained that in the past, low population densities in urban areas and rural economies meant that water consumption levels were modest and pollution from wastewater was minimal.

“However given the population explosion there is need for expansion of the sewer lines to match the growth. It is worth noting that investment in water supply for the city has not matched investment in sewer lines to drain the wastewater away. Thus increased development has resulted in frequent sewer bursts being experienced in many parts of the city,” he said.

He says industrial waste effluent including petro-chemicals and metals from micro-enterprises and jua-kali industries as well as grease from the busy roads are not disposed properly. “In many instances the waste is mixed with domestic water instead of being pre-treated. Worse still, some of this waste is discharged in our rivers. Illegal car washes that spring up due to increased demand for this service will increase hydrocarbons into the rivers.”

NEMA has inventoried 156 illegal discharges along Ngong river of which 29 were stopped. A majority of the discharges were from Kibera and Mukuru slums and hence present a challenge to enforce.

“Inadequate handling of waste water and discharge of poorly treated waste into waterways together with poor garbage collection and disposal services has serious consequences for human health, the environment and economic development,” said the Director General of the Authority, adding that “it contaminates water supply, increases the risk of infectious diseases and deteriorates groundwater and other local ecosystems.”

NEMA says that Local Authorities should designate appropriate car wash areas.

Solid waste is a problem in urban centers compounded by the plastic bag menace and inadequate collection systems. “40-50 percent of waste generated in urban centers is not collected and ends up in illegal dump sites all over the center. The example of waste in Nairobi is replicated in all the urban centers in the country,” the Authority says.

The Authority has engaged all the 175 local Authorities through awareness campaigns on compliance with Waste Management Regulations. The output of these meetings with the Town Clerks was that each council should have a designated waste disposal site which is manned for development of a sanitary landfill.

It is against this background that the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government Prof Karega Muthai directed all councils to declare their designated dumpsites and ensure proper waste management therein.

Prof Muthai further directed all illegal dumpsites to be closed or responsible councils to be prosecuted. “Councils should re-look at their bylaws and enforce them,” urged the PS. “The public is advised to adopt proper waste management including the 3Rs; reduce, recycle, reuse.”

To reinforce this directives, NEMA “will follow up to ensure compliance,” Dr Macharia says.

Nevertheless NEMA says increase in demand for construction materials will proportionately increase quarrying activities in the country.

NEMA says it has received numerous complaints regarding quarrying activities which includes; environmental degradation especially where land degradation tendencies are not checked and air pollution which causes serious health problems to those in the surrounding areas. “These health problems include respiratory diseases and breathing problems due to dust,” Dr Macharia says.

He explained that noise pollution from the blasting of stones by explosives will cause serious health problems to those in the surrounding areas.”These health problems include loss of hearing.”

“The use of explosives causes vibrations which result in cracking of houses in residential areas for example in areas such as Embakasi where several complaints from the area have been received,” he says, adding that the quarries are registering security concerns as they provide a harbor criminal elements that use them as safe havens from where they operate away from the law.

“Stagnant water in quarries becomes breeding ground for disease through organisms such as mosquitoes which cause malaria,” as well as “cases of drowning have also been reported in quarry sites,” the Director General says.

NEMA says that quarrying activities in Nairobi started long before environmental laws were implemented. They were sited mainly in Embakasi area where there was no settlement at the time. “However with the expansion of the City and high demand for residential houses, the quarries are now in close proximity to residential houses.”

Apart from other emerging informal and non-mechanized quarries especially in Njiru and Ruai, there were 17 formal mechanized quarries. Ten of them have since stopped or moved else where.

“While the authority underscores the importance of the quarries in the construction industry, lack of zonal enforcement by the City Council of Nairobi has rendered these activities unsustainable within the city,” Dr Macharia says.

NEMA says this is compounded by the requirement of ensuring a clean and healthy environment.

Thus, “all active quarries throughout the country should adhere to environment regulations. Anybody found operating an illegal quarry or owner of land where this activity is taking place will be prosecuted,” NEMA has directed.

However “licensed quarries in other areas should strictly observe license conditions,” as “all active quarries in Nairobi should submit decommissioning plan of the quarries,” as they “engage in immediate rehabilitation of the quarries.”

Its noteworthy that in 2007 the authority engaged all quarry stakeholders and agreed to cease quarrying activities by December 2007. However they sought several extensions. “Therefore, the above directive takes precedence of any other approval or extension in operation currently,” Dr Macharia says.


About Robert Okemwa Onsare

Robert Okemwa Onsare
Robert Onsare is pursuing Electronics Technology at the University of Eastern Africa, Baraton. He is a Cluster Strategy trained facilitator by Kenya's National Economic and Social Council (NESC). Mr Onsare has been an incubation student at the University of Nairobi, School of Engineering, FabLab, a venture project of the university and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is a member of the African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS) and a published poet. Mr Onsare is based in Kenya.

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