Nairobi River chokes on raw human and industrial waste, but all is not lost

'Six children found dumped in the river'

In Summary

• The river once abounded with fish and creatures like the water beetle. 

• A team has been put in place to reclaim Nairobi River's lost glory.

A section of Nairobi River. /FILE
A section of Nairobi River. /FILE

Nairobi River water, all the way from Lavington to Dandora, was a sparkling wonder a few decades ago. It abounded with fish and creatures like the water beetle. 

But that was then. Today, Nairobi is a dead river – or nearly so – just like the Dead Sea. Dead foetuses, used syringes, raw human waste and hazardous industrial waste have replaced fish and freshwater creatures in the river that flows across Kenya's capital city.

However, all is not lost. There is a team to reclaim its lost glory.

On Wednesday, officials from the Nairobi County, National Environment Management Authority, and Nairobi Water and Sewerage came face to face with the shocking reality of what has become of the river.

They found a fresh grave of two children in Korogocho.  The grave had been discovered by cleaners. Not far away, four more graves stood out next to the river.

"We buried twins in one grave four days ago. So far, we have found six children dumped in the river," Moses Muchina said. He is the leader of the river cleaning group made up more than 60 young reformed criminals mainly from the Korogocho slums.

The slum is one of Nairobi's largest informal settlements with 150,000-200,000 people living on no more than 1.5 square kilometres.

It is better known for poverty, crime, drugs and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and widespread HIV/Aids.


At the Korogocho market, a huge heap of organic waste stands out.

Ironically, sewage is discharged into the river by Nairobi Water and Sewerage company.

During the Wednesday tour of the slum, Nema board chairman John Konchellah said, "We have served the company with restoration order. We want them to do their bit; I am told there is a pre-treatment plant that is not functioning. It should be made to work immediately." 

Early this month, Nema shut five factories in Industrial Area for discharging effluent in one of Nairobi River tributaries.

The factories are Africa Apparel Limited, Mas Tannery, Far Horizon Hides and Skins, Amin Tanners and Nairobi Tanners Limited.

Five people were arrested. 

Konchellah disclosed that Nema had closed more than 20 companies for discharging effluent in rivers.

Nairobi CEC for Environment Veska Kangongo said organic waste from Korogocho market will be turned into fertiliser. "We have collected over 200 lorry-loads of garbage," she said and appealed for cooperation in the cleaning up of the river.

"Compost manure can be used in the beautification of Nairobi," Kangongo said.

Kangongo said if the site will not be there in the next seven days, the county government will facilitate it.

The CEC said Ngong River and Mathare River are among the waterways to be cleaned. The county government has allocated Sh400 million in the next financial year for the job.

"We will not allow Thwake dam project into which Nairobi River water will be discharged to polluted," she said in reference to the multi-billion-shilling dam under construction at the border of Kitui and Makueni. Nairobi River is a tributary of River Athi which will be the main source of water for the dam.

Kangongo warned garbage collectors not to pollute rivers. "Stern action will be taken against any private garbage collector found dumping solid waste next to a river or by the roadside."

She said workers involved in the river clean-up will get hepatitis B jabs to protect them hazardous substances.

Nema director general Geoffrey Wahungu said there were many challenges in cleaning up Nairobi River.

"We have closed several factories. We have also arrested several people. The waste here can be converted into fertiliser," Wahungu said.

He noted that the ban on plastic bags has significantly reduced pollution.