Why Nairobi River cleanup has stalled

Dead foetuses, used syringes, raw human waste and hazardous industrial waste have clogged the river

In Summary

• A team formed in April last year for regeneration of Nairobi is doing little.

• The project is underfunded and poorly coordinated.

A section of Nairobi River.
A section of Nairobi River.
Image: FILE

Decades ago, Nairobi River water was a sparkling wonder. It abounded with fish and other creatures like the water beetle.

Then, Nairobi was referred to as the green city in the sun.

Cool and clean drinking water could be sourced from four main rivers – Ngong, Nairobi, Mathare and Mbagathi.

Today, Nairobi is technically a dead river.

Studies on the various tributaries of the river and basin conducted in the 1990s showed evidence of high levels of chemical and organic pollution.

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.

Increased industrialisation, rapid population growth, mushrooming slums and scarce water resources continue to create major environmental problems for the river.

More alarming, however, is that a team of national and county leaders formed in April last year to ensure the regeneration of Nairobi are pulling in different directions.

The team co-chaired by Governor Mike Sonko and Tourism CS Najib Balala seems overwhelmed.

Deep-seated mistrust among them, as well as lack of funds, has stalled the cleanup drive.


Also, lack of coordination as well as unity of purpose has further worsened matters.

On Sunday, the chairman of Komb-Green Solutions which is assisting in the cleanup, Fredrick Okinda, said work had gone well at Korokocho.

However, the team has called for proper coordination between the two levels of government.

"We started as volunteers. But when the Nairobi governor saw that we were doing good work, he came and supported us. We however cannot do this work alone as it is massive," Okinda told the Star on phone.

In March, Environment CS Keriako Tobiko said lack of funds was putting the ambitious plan in jeopardy as only Sh110 million had been allocated to the programme.

City Hall has allocated Sh330 million to the programme under the second supplementary budget of the 2018-19 financial year.

Okinda said the National government has not been keen in the clean up.

Okinda's group has managed to partially clean the river near Korokocho slums where they have found eight bodies dumped in the river.

Okinda said the bodies mainly from abortion came from illegal clinics dotting the area.

The group has since removed huge heaps of wastes from the river and Korokocho market.

Many have however questioned the reason behind starting the clean up from downstream instead of upstream.

This comes even as the Environment ministry cries foul over massive budget cuts.

On July, 10, Environment CS Tobiko raised concerns saying key activities at the ministry were likely to stall following budget cuts.

"We are concerned about the budget cuts. As you know, the Nairobi River clean up and restoration have zero budget. Other critical projects are Ngarisha Lake Naivasha, Suswa and Lake Magadi," Tobiko said.

Tobiko said almost Sh500,000 was slashed from the ministry's budget, a move that  "seriously compromises and jeopardises the capacity of the ministry and its entities to deliver".

This means Nairobi river clean up will be compromised.

The CS who presided over the inauguration of Kenya Forest Research Institute board of management at Kefri headquarters, Muguga , however, said the issue was being discussion by the Cabinet and Treasury.

Yesterday, a source at the ministry said "nothing was moving."

In May, 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 cleaning up the river.

Kangongo had directed market managers to earmark a space for making compost.

She said the compost manure could be used in the beautification of Nairobi.

Okinda however said yesterday that "market officials do not corporate."

The National Environment Management Authority has been shutting factories in Industrial Area for discharging effluent into one of Nairobi river's tributaries.

Some of the industries shut so far include Africa Apparel Limited, Mas Tannery, Far Horizon Hides and Skins, Amin Tanners and Nairobi Tanners Limited.